Chapman forward Justin Riley joins us for a second season as a blogger, after a year in which he helped lead the Panthers to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. His first blog post of the season follows.
It was a sunny spring day when I first walked onto Chapman University’s campus. I had informed the head coach the previous day that I would be coming to play open gym with the team. As I roamed the campus looking for the coach’s office, I had a feeling that the coaching staff didn’t care too much that I was coming. No one was there to greet me when I arrived; no one picked up my phone calls. Nothing.
Eventually, I asked a random student where the coach’s offices were and luckily he pointed me in the right direction. On the walk there, the uneasiness I felt turned into anger. For the first time in my basketball career, I felt that I didn’t really matter. After 15 minutes of searching, asking, and wondering where the coach was, I finally found an assistant coach and headed to the gym. As I was preparing to lace up my shoes and take the court, the head coach walked in with a recruit and his parents.
At that moment my feelings were reaffirmed—I didn’t really matter.
I took the court with an added sense of motivation to prove not only to myself, but to the coaching staff, that I was the best player in that gym.
And not to my surprise, the coaching staff agreed. And the rest is history!
Three and half years later, I stand toe-to-toe with my teammate of eight years, Griffin Ramme, ready to lead Chapman University to another successful season and NCAA Division III tournament bid. At the end of last season, we had our doubts of how good we would be. Graduating three seniors, two of whom were four-year starters, is not an easy reality to overcome, yet we remained optimistic. Individual workouts, weightlifting sessions, adult league games and basketball camps filled up the summer; but an uneasy feeling of our team’s future still loomed.
Open gym started.
Our team would be composed of those who showed up at the gym every afternoon at 1:00 to showcase their “new and improved” abilities, myself included.
With over a month of intense 5-on-5 games and team practices rapidly approaching, I still wasn’t convinced that we could duplicate last season’s performance.
October 15 was here.
There was nothing more anyone could do. The countless hours spent in the gym boiled down to this very moment: practice.
Practice, practice, and more practice.
Was my senior season going to be a memorable one filled with great experiences, or a year of rebuilding highlighted with struggle and tough defeats? I can’t answer this question in its entirety, but I can confidently say that the once uneasy feeling dancing in my stomach no longer exists. After the first few days of practice, it was clear there was more talent in the gym compared to last year. And the only thing missing was exactly that: practice.
Three weeks into my senior campaign, we stand with a 6-1 record, with our only loss coming to last year’s NAIA Division 1 runner up, Azusa Pacific University. This past weekend, we claimed the Lee Fulmer Tournament Championship for the second consecutive season, defeating Redlands in the finals. December marks a crucial month for us as we have six Division III games, five of which are against teams in the West region.
I never realized how quickly four seasons would go by, but as a co-captain and senior leader, I am excited for this final collegiate journey I will take with my teammates and only hope that we remain positive, practice hard, and stay focused on our goal to have the opportunity to play again in March.