When you think of a college basketball team, you think of the main components. There's the players of course, the head coach, and the coach's ever-so-important staff that train their players and set lineups. But what people often forget is that there's another group of key players that make the program function smoothly: the team managers. On the court, you'll see them formally dressed, handing out towels and water bottles during timeouts. Aside from the task of physical revitalization, they help mentally prepare the players for the next play or sequence that lies ahead of them. But between games, these students fill enormous responsibilities for their respective basketball programs.
I want you to sit back and imagine that you're a student manager for your favorite college basketball team. You'll be going through a week full of practices, games, and NCAA Tournament preparation. Think you can handle the pressure? You may not know just what's in store for you. I interviewed Illinois team managers Ryan Schmidt, Drew Dunn, and TJ Rickert and Villanova manager Sean Catalano in order to get a better feel for the life of a student manager.
So sit back, and enjoy the ride as you discover what its like to be behind the scenes of a collegiate basketball program.
As you tackle your week as a student manager, you can expect to spend anywhere from 20-40 hours working with the program. When you begin to factor in coursework and any extracurricular activities or jobs that most college students have, it becomes a lot of work. The head managers, or upperclassmen, tend to take on a majority of the team manager duties, and when you account for travel time, it becomes a major commitment.
As you start your week as a student manager, you'll attend your first practice with the basketball team. But before the players even take the court, there are a number of things that need to be done. "On court we deal with everything from wiping up sweat, to making sure the guys all have the appropriate gear and attire," noted Villanova Team Manager Sean Catalano. These team managers help ensure that both the coaching staff and the players can focus solely on basketball rather than the logistics of the practice itself.
Team managers are very active during team practices, as one may expect. Illinois Basketball Head Manager Ryan Schmidt notes that a number of tasks, including live drill practicing, refereeing, clock keeping, and stat recording, are divvied up among the team's managers. There's essentially never a dull moment for student managers on the floor during a team practice, and if you're lucky, you could just get to participate in practice with the players themselves, running drills and playing alongside the team.
You made it through practice, but your first home game as a student manager awaits. At the State Farm Center in Champagne, Illinois, you can see team managers Schmidt, Dunn, and Rickert setting up two hours before tip-off. Before the game starts, you will need to prepare all of the team's equipment and ensure that it conforms with NCAA standards. Benches need to be arranged in a specific manner, coolers need to be filled, and stat sheets and dry erase boards need to be ready.
Once it's a bit closer to game time, you'll help out on the floor rebounding and distributing for the players during shootaround. Both Schmidt and Catalano note that their pregame duties encompass anything in particular that needs to be done for the coaching staff. For example, Catalano notes that student managers often help show recruits or special guests to their seats or the locker room prior to tip-off.
One of the most important parts about being a student manager is traveling with the team and performing duties during away games. Playing on the road is stressful enough, and if a team isn't properly prepared, a lot can go wrong.
With a limited amount of travel opportunity, not everyone is able to help out during away games. Illinois usually has only 4-5 bodies to help with shootaround on the road as compared to anywhere from 10-12 at home. This means that everything must run as efficiently as possible. Away games usually require more responsibilities, such as loading and unloading the buses from the hotel to the arena.
Given how hard it is to win on the road in both the Big Ten and the Big East conferences, it's pivotal that all of the little things are done correctly before, during, and after games. Student managers are in charge of making sure all of this runs efficiently, because those little things are the last thing a coach needs on his mind before a big game.
The NCAA Tournament
Your team made it into the NCAA Tournament, and although you want to celebrate, there's tons of work to be done. Catalano notes that the most stressful thing about being a team manager is having to prepare tape for Coach Wright and his staff before the Big Dance. Once the field is announced, managers are quick to work, clipping tapes and trimming them down so that the coach doesn't have to sort through an entire game. Catalano notes that clips are taken from a team's last four games, and this must be done for the first round opponent, and both possible second round opponents. So within a matter of a few hours, you'll need to have clipped and assembled tape from 12 different games so that your coach can view it and plan practice in the days to come. Sound stressful?
Catalano notes that the NCAA Tournament is an "amped up version of an away game." With all of the media attention, there is a huge responsibility to keep things in line, and the higher a team is seeded, the more pressure that tends to accompany those games. Catalano jokingly notes that Villanova being seeded #1 and #2 over the past two seasons hasn't helped with the stress associated with the position.
Your season is over, and your week is beginning to come to a close, but just because there aren't anymore games doesn't mean that your job is done. Recruiting is a full-time job, and with coaches gone away on recruiting visits throughout the spring and summer, you can expect team managers to be right there with them for assistance. "We are very active during recruiting visits, whether that includes saving tables at restaurants for coaches and recruits as well as with the logistics behind the visit," said Schmidt, Dunn, and Rickert.
While the team managers certainly help with recruiting the next class of students, they're also working with young basketball players in the summer to help develop their games. Schmidt, Dunn, and Rickert of Illinois spend a large chunk of June working at a variety of summer basketball camps. From parent-junior camps to high school team camps, team managers spend a lot of time around the game.
But that's not even the half of it. You can't forget about the existing players on the team. Managers play a huge role assisting with both team and individual workouts. Conditioning, like recruiting, essentially doesn't have an offseason, so team managers are always helping the players stay in shape.
Well, it seems you've made it, and with all that you've done, you've more than likely taken something away from your experience as a student manager. For one, you get the great opportunity to work with your university's basketball program. You get a front row seat to every single game, and your a huge part of what makes the program function smoothly. The friendships and experiences you'll have will last a lifetime, and the opportunities you'll have will be incredibly intriguing and memorable.
Being a student manager is all about hard work. If being a college student wasn't stressful enough, these guys dedicate a huge chunk of their time to help their respective basketball programs succeed to their full potential. And hard work does pay off. Villanova's Sean Catalano was given the opportunity to work with Wasserman Media Group, the premier sports agency in Los Angeles, with a chance to work with some big names in basketball. Catalano has worked with Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis, to name a few, and has even gotten the chance to play pick-up basketball with the NBA superstars. He notes that it was "a dream come true" for him, and he cherishes the opportunity.
Ryan Schmidt of Illinois had his dream come true as well. The dedicated student manager had the chance to suit up for the Fighting Illini when head coach John Groce's roster was plagued by injury and suspensions. The former high school basketball player got to dress in the team uniform and play in his first collegiate basketball game in a home matchup against the Michigan Wolverines. For Ryan Schmidt, being a student manager let him to live out his dream by suiting up for the Orange and Blue.
For Catalano, Schmidt, and all the other student managers across the country, the position is about hard work, dedication, and commitment to both your school's basketball program and your dreams as an individual.