By Pat Baldwin
UWM Men’s Basketball
If you don’t pass, you can’t play. That mantra got drilled into my memory by my parents, and it’s one that I now share with my children and the student-athletes I coach on the basketball team at UW-Milwaukee. It applies on the court and in the classroom.
If I didn’t get a passing grade at minimum, in any class, I couldn’t play basketball. I had high standards for myself growing up, but that was a legitimate threat to me, because I loved playing so much.
I took it a step forward and incorporated it into my coaching. I always tell my players that if they don’t pass the ball to their teammates on the basketball court, they will not play, either.
I found myself repeating that same theme recently while sitting in a circle around the free-throw line. In that circle were this year’s Panthers and several kids from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee. The children came to watch our team practice and engage with our student-athletes afterward. They could learn about the dedication and work ethic it takes to succeed in life, college and possibly athletics.
The visit is part of our team’s commitment to be a visible presence in the community, helping in ways that don’t necessarily get us TV time but show people that we care. It was a thrill to see the kids looking up to our players, big guys who’ve found success in life, and our players clearly learned as much or more from the kids. It was a win for us all.
Our student-athletes had an opportunity to interact with the kids, who asked them very good questions. Vance Johnson talked about how much education paved a way for him to be in this position at Milwaukee. Tyler Behrendt spoke of perseverance and not allowing naysayers to destroy your dreams, explaining you can do whatever you want in life.
DeAndre Abram and Amir Allen talked about hard work and dedication, and how that will allow them to accomplish all of their goals. Bryce Barnes was a great example for all of the kids. He discussed his internship with Roc Nation, a company owned by Jay-Z that represents several professional athletes and other prominent entertainers. Barnes talked about hard work, sacrifice and dedication, as well as the importance of having a plan for life after basketball.
I ended the session by talking to the kids about networking and how so many people will have an impact on their lives. They need to cultivate the relationships they have and remember the experiences that accompany them.
We got a game going, and our guys were great with the kids while playing a sport that all of them love. It was great seeing the younger eyes light up when they had 6-foot-8 guys towering above them. I even jumped in there with the kids and recounted my younger days playing and competing against guys I looked up to.
The visit reinforced how much I value our community and want to make sure we play a big role in the lives of Milwaukee’s children. I think we need to take a leadership role, whether it’s boosting spirits or motivating young people to succeed in school. I just think it’s an added bonus to our program and the city where we study and play.