Inside the College Student Athlete: NBA Finals
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Inside the College Student Athlete: NBA Finals

The NBA Finals from a student-athlete perspective.

So if you've been reading any of my stuff (thank you), you know that I'm a little biased towards basketball. It's what I know, and ever since I was a little kid, it's honestly been a part of who I am. A lot of people hate on the NBA, claim that college basketball is better and more fun to watch. I don't care. I love the NBA, I love the players, the coaches, even the ridiculous commentators because they all contribute to an end result that I can't get enough of.

This series between Golden State and Cleveland sucked. There was so much hate and negativity revolving around the now NBA Champion Cavaliers that even the biggest of Cavalier fans felt doomed. There was talk about how terrible the ratings would be for Games 5 & 6 because there was just no way there would be a Game 7, especially the way the Cavs had been outplayed.

But that proved to be just that, as LeBron and Kyrie willed their way to arguably the best comeback in NBA history and Cleveland's first major sports championship since 1964.

Now for any of you that watched this game, just know that it was so historic that ESPN has probably already started production for the 30 for 30 film on it. The 73-win Warriors with a choke similar to the 2007 Patriots, Kevin Love's absolute fall from grace, Kyrie's ascent into a top-10 player in this league, the storylines are endless.

The part that really stuck with me, however, was the emotions you saw on these guys' faces. You saw LeBron, the mightiest of Cavaliers (I'd say Warriors but that just doesn't seem right so I'm just gonna try and make this one work), was brought to his knees, tears streaming down his face.

JR Smith, who was probably sipping on Molly water in the final minutes, was just as emotional. That's when it really hit me, this was something that these guys may never experience again. Something that they play their whole career for: This one moment.

Here's a quick list of guys that have never won an NBA Championship: Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson, Charles Barkley.

James Jones has three.

The emotion I saw was reminiscent of the way I felt after what, at the time, I had thought to be my last high school race ever. I came from a very, very good track program. My junior year we finished as the third best public school team in the entire state of New Jersey. My senior year, I believe 10 of us went on to compete in college, and about half at the Division I level. Together we all broke countless school records and won numerous league, county, and state sectional titles.

At the State Group meet, I prepared what would be my last 200m race as a high school athlete. I didn't use blocks in this race because they wouldn't allow you to bring your own set and I was very superstitious so I just went without them, which many people look at as a stupid decision but it worked for me.

I remember as I got down into the set position, the last four years of training and races and teammates all flashed in my head. Everything that I had gone through to lead me up to this moment right here. I knew that I had to give everything that I had, and I did. I ended up running a personal record (PR), and afterwards I was so overcome with emotion that I couldn't even believe I had just finished. I was ecstatic with a PR, but also sad that it was all over.

It turns out that my race had qualified me for one additional meet, the State Meet of Champions, which obviously I was excited for but it actually made me look like an idiot because I made the whole emotional Instagram post and everything.

That feeling though after that race, I don't think will ever be matched. Even at the State Meet of Champions, I had felt like I had already come to terms with the end. You only get one last race, and in the eyes of the Cavaliers, you only get one first championship, and I just have to assume that the emotions I felt that day are similar to those the Cavaliers are feeling right now.

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Inside the College Student Athlete

What is the ratio of student to athlete?


That little hyphen there is what differentiates me from the other 20,000 undergraduate students at school. But am I really very different?

I enjoy beer-drinking, beer-funneling, beer-holding, beer-watching, and drinking beer just like any other typical college student (half-joking here). I enjoy going out on the weekends as well as going out on nights that really aren't meant for going out (only in college is it acceptable to go out and party on a random Tuesday night).

The thing is though, I can't really do all that and be a great athlete. One of the strongest skills I have developed being a student-athlete is my ability to say no. My ability to be different. When everyone else is eight beers deep, I have to stay hydrated in other ways because I know that at 8 a.m. the next morning I have to run repeat 200's on the track.

That's OK though because, guess what? I get to do all the things your average college student does and more. I get to have a college experience that is completely different than yours (unless you're a student athlete, of course, because then we're probably in the same boat). I get to compete with some of the best athletes around, I get to be coached by some of the finest coaches, and I get to do 95 percent of the same shit you NARPs do (non-athletic regular person for those of you who haven't accepted who you are yet).

And really is sacrificing a couple Friday nights truly a bad thing? I'll probably get a typical frat response here that shuns me for my lack of alcohol consumption, but honestly, my liver probably couldn't handle the 24/7 non-stop drinking that goes on.

There's a balance I have to achieve, but it isn't too difficult. By simply weighing the pros and cons of a certain situation, I can make the best decision possible for myself. Are there are some nights where I'm conflicted between being a regular college kid or an athlete? Absolutely. One of the worst feelings in the world is regret. Whether that regret is that I missed a huge party that all my friends were at or showing up to practice hungover the next morning looking and thinking, "why do I do this to myself?"

I'm still a college student. I'm still learning and I'm also still making stupid mistakes. It's what college kids do. But being a student-athlete helps me minimize those mistakes and look at things with a perspective that not many people are lucky enough to have.

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Inside The College Student Athlete

My "oh shit" moment.

The cool thing about college athletics is that almost everyone was a high school star. In high school you think you're the shit because you ran fast at a this meet and beat every kid from that high school. When you get to college though, you're competing against the best-of-the-best. You don't make it to intercollegiate athletics by being a scrub. Nobody just accidentally finds their way onto a college track; if you're there, there's a reason for it.

One thing you learn is that there will always be someone better than you, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Something I've noticed a lot more in college than in high school is the mutual respect athletes have for one another; not just in different sports, but in their own sports as well.

Don't get me wrong, I love beating people, there's almost no better feeling in the world than crossing that line ahead of the guy next to you. At some point though, you kind of come across this "oh shit" moment where you realize that you're not competing against the scrubs from your local high schools anymore, you are competing against some of the finest athletes in the world (sure that may be an exaggeration, but you get what I'm saying).

For me, my "oh shit" moment came actually a couple of weeks ago at the Atlantic 10 Championships. This would be my second Atlantic 10 competition, so I had a rough idea of what to expect. I knew that the guys I would be running against were some of the fastest I have ever competed against.

But it wasn't until after the race that I really said to myself, "oh shit." The reason being that, in the trials of the 200m dash, I ran faster than I ever have in my entire life, only to look up at fourteen other guys finishing ahead of me, seven places shy of scoring. Sure, one may look at that as a failure, but it has only helped fuel my love for the sport.

College sports teams are littered with some of the best athletes you will ever see. In my sport alone (track and field, if you somehow haven't caught on yet), only 4.9 percent of high school athletes make it to the NCAA and only 1.9 percent make it to the Division I level. Those numbers are so minuscule that it just goes to show how few people have what it takes to truly take it to the next level.

For me, I enjoy competing. I'm mature enough where I realize I'm not going to be the fastest guy on the track every time out, and that's okay. This past season at the Atlantic 10 Championships I found myself in peak running form only to find myself looking at eight other individuals running in the finals the next day.

At some point, an athlete has to take what they can get, and admire greatness when they come across it. By no means does that mean I'm going to settle in any of my races. But that does mean that after I know I've given 110% on that track, I can still look on and watch as a fan of the sport, captivated by the other amazing athletes giving their all.

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Stop Complaining and Enjoy The NBA Finals

There's no conspiracy, relaxxxx.

Any rational NBA fan probably saw this coming. No, I'm not about talking the Warriors and the Cavaliers meeting each other for the second straight NBA Finals.

I'm talking about the apparent hate for the Warriors as a whole.

After Golden State finished off one of the most impressive comebacks in recent NBA history, battling back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, the hate commenced, for whatever reason.

Now, it should be mentioned that the Warriors are the defending champs and coming off a historic regular season, but the Thunder were playing their best basketball, having beat the San Antonio Spurs in the previous round.

So once the Warriors won Game 7 on their home court, instead of excitement over Curry vs. LeBron 2, I saw this on Facebook and Twitter.

Nevermind the fact that it was the Thunder who CHOKED in games six and seven that pushed the Warriors into the NBA Finals, not some grand master plan that was unearthed by Conspiracy Theorist Joe.

Two years ago, Stephen Curry and the Warriors were the darlings of the NBA. They weren't superstars yet, but they were fun to watch.

Meanwhile everyone is wishing ill on the Warriors. The media have covered this team so much that the team now has, what I call, "LeBron heat" (when pretty much all fans hate you for no apparent reason, if not for the excitement of watching you fall).

Even former coaches and players are knocking the Warriors for their "exclusive 3-point shooting offense".

I'm glad that Michael Jordan isn't playing in this era of basketball. Don't take this next statement as me hating on MJ. I think he is, without a doubt, the best basketball player on the planet, but I would bet that he would get just as much hate if he was still playing today. We all remember the "Flu game," going 6-0 in NBA Finals and "Air Jordan," among other noteworthy accomplishments.

They can also criticize him for not being too serious, not being able to get over the hump and reach an NBA Finals in his first seven years in the league, his constant retirement and un-retirements (everyone did criticized Favre when he did, so it's fair Jordan would get the same heat), and the fact that he played well past his prime and that he tries to hog the spotlight for himself.

Yes, we all could do with a little less coverage of the Warriors, but you guys asked for it. So sit back and enjoy the fact that LeBron is the first non-Celtic to make it to six straight NBA Finals. Enjoy the fact that Stephen Curry and the Warriors are the most fun basketball team to watch in recent memory.

That's right. I used the "F" word. Fun. Because that's what we all should feel when watching these two great teams duke it out once the NBA Finals start on June 2.

So stop with the depressing conspiracy theories, and appreciate watching greatness.

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Inside The College Student Athlete: Pay for Play

Should student athletes be paid?

College kids are broke. It's a fact. Somehow, no matter how hard we try, we always end up with four digits in our bank account; often with a fat decimal in between instead of a comma.

There's also always that one kid who seemingly popped out of his mother's womb with a savings account worth more than my entire life's existence, but that's the exception to the rule.

Fuck you, dude.

But what about college athletes? I can't speak for everyone, but I can speak from my experience and tell you that I'm painfully broke and there doesn't seem to be a way to fix that, at least in the immediate future.

See, your average college kid somehow struggles to find the time to work (more on that later) towards paying off loans or helping your parents out or simply putting some extra cash in your pocket so you're not as fucked as everyone else when you graduate.

Take a second and put yourself in my shoes and add 25-plus (I'm hesitant to say plus because who knows if I'm committing an NCAA violation by saying that) hours of running, lifting, and general body care (that's the extra hours of foam rolling, stretching, and training appointments to make sure my body doesn't break) into your schedule. On top of that I have a minimum 12-credit course load, but I'm kinda trying to graduate on time so that's more like 15 credits each semester. Track is basically a year-round sport with our first real practices beginning October 1, but that doesn't count the couple weeks of "voluntary" captain's practices that basically start once I arrive on campus.

How can I expect to set myself up to make a living while simultaneously keeping myself in shape - not just to compete at a Division I level, but to excel and improve on what I do. Especially since in my field of sport management, a whole lot of entry level internships are unpaid (and no I'm not changing my major because it's the best and I don't care what you think).

By no means am I complaining. I love my sport, I love what I do, and I wouldn't change a thing about my college experience. I'm simply just trying to provide a different perspective on the issue of whether college athletes should be paid.

At it's peak, my sport is easily equivalent to working a full-time job. Throw academic rigors and college stressors into the mix, and I don't think it's outlandish to think I, a non-revenue generating athlete, deserve some sort of compensation.

I realize I probably bring a grand total of $0 in revenue to my school and team, but that's not the point (I hope at least my parents maybe bought a ticket or something). I don't think that student athletes should be paid on the same scale as professionals. It just doesn't make sense and would completely rule out amateurism and probably the NCAA as well.

But I do believe that there should be some sort of minor compensation for the amount of work that I (we) put in. I like my spot on my team and enjoy what I do, so I'm not going to start an uprising (like I even could if I wanted to), but when I see schools reaching $280 million dollar deals to represent the uniform I wear, I start to wonder how non-profit the NCAA and its members really are.

Also, checkout Richard Sherman's talk about this too, he actually sounds like he knows what he's talking about because it's about as painfully true as I am broke.

Jon Oliver also does a really good job too if you have 20-minutes to spare.

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What To Do With Kevin Love

At this point, he's tagging along for no real reason.

Picture this.

You and your close friends are preparing to drink your faces off on a Tuesday night like the alcoholics you really are. The funny fat kid you were really close with in high school hits you up and asks to tag along.

None of your friends are really close with him, but you know he was awesome in high school and feel like he could be a great wildcard addition to your squad. As the night progresses, you realize that he's lost some weight and frankly isn't much fun anymore (fat funny people are only funny when they're fat, sorry Jonah Hill).

That guy right there is Kevin Love. The Cavs thought this guy was going to be a great addition, the guy that would make their squad that much better, only to realize he's lost some weight along with some of the killer instinct that made him so good on the Timberwolves.

Love missed almost the entire playoffs last year and yet the Cavs still made it to Game 6 of the NBA Finals before falling to the Warriors. Often seen as the scapegoat for Cleveland's struggles, it's clear Kevin and the Cavs aren't in love after all (please excuse my awful puns). With Channing Frye coming on board midseason and virtually playing the same role, Love is probably best fit for a lead role elsewhere.

The reality is that no matter the outcome of this Finals, there just aren't enough two-way players on this Cavaliers team. Especially now that Cleveland has shown that they can win without Kevin Love, they need to find him a better home and replace him with a defensive-minded forward that can switch onto guards the way Oklahoma City did with Serge Ibaka.

LeBron & Co. could easily improve by flipping Love for more defensive-minded assets and with reports that Love is frustrated with Cleveland's handling of his concussion, it almost seems as if his Cleveland days are dwindling.

Just like when you and your friends realized your big mistake, the Cavaliers need to open their eyes to theirs. You can't just drop your friend like you dropped that Bio-Chem class, no, you have to slowly leave him with a new group where he doesn't even realize he's been ditched.

He'll probably even laugh about it later how he dropped you. Obviously the Cavs won't be that smooth, just ask David Blatt, but they need to hook Kevin Love up with a new Tuesday-night drinking squad.