Tuesday, November 5, 2013

One of the Greatest Jags

Series 1:  The Jaguars - Who Are They?
Inaugural Interview
By: Keenan Mann

This post is the first of what will become a collection of interviews that will be conducted and put on our site.  We hope you enjoy.

About a week or so ago, Chad and I were sitting courtside for a GRU Jaguars men’s basketball practice.  We both marveled at the depth of talent on the floor across all positions.  As former active Jags, we naturally began comparing the teams we played on to the current assemblage.  Chad quickly concluded that this team would have beaten his old team handily.  Remembering some of the horses I had the privilege of playing with, I couldn’t bring myself to offer a concession of that magnitude, but I did concede (to myself) that we might have at least been outgunned.  I then immediately dampened that concession by reminding myself of the often quoted verse:

 I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”

In other words, champions are crowned at the end of the contest, after EVERYTHING has played out, rather than the beginning. 

 So our conversation continued, and after a really funny moment in which we both concluded that Devon Wright Nelson was Jermaine ‘Jay Boogie’ Hennigan reincarnated, I posed the following question to Chad as an offshoot to our mutual agreement that the current team has some particularly outstanding point guards:  “Who are the top five Jaguar point guards in the modern era (1988-present), excluding the current team?”  Chad began by stipulating that there had been some very good ones through the years.  Then he started rationalizing the names on his list in his head and aloud.  In the end, he had only been able to produce a top 2.  It wasn’t meant as a slight to those not mentioned, but rather a salute to the two finalists.  First on the list was Kavossy ‘Scoot’ Franklin (1998-1999).  Second was Brian Schmall (1988-1990).  Having played lots of pickup with Scoot and having been a teammate of Brian’s, I could find no fault with the selections.  Others may disagree.  Again, please note there is no disrespectful intent here.

All that said, the rest of this post is about number two on the list.  Brian Schmall was recruited out of Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland.  Schmall, as we all called him way back then, was as tough as they came and was competitive to a fault.  In fact there are legendary stories of him refusing to speak to teammates for days at a time after he took a loss and was refused a rematch in a Techmo Bowl game.  Yes, he was such a competitor that he couldn’t even stand to lose at a video game!  Refusal to grant a rematch was about as deep a personal offense as could be inflicted upon him.  He always forgave the offender though – eventually.  For as uncomfortable as the atmosphere could get back at the apartments when the video game was out, that competitive fire made Brian one of the best teammates I have ever played with.  In the two years we played together, I got to know him pretty well.  Aside from being one of the toughest guys I’ve ever met, he was also one of the funniest.  On top of that, if there would have ever been a contest for the most well-mannered player on the team, Brian would have been a repeat champion. 

What follows is a Q&A session he recently did for us.  My hope is that some of those reading this may get to know him a little better and perhaps even learn something of value in the process.

First, a short text message/email transcript combo from me, setting up the Q&A:

 Me:  Hey I’m sending you an email questionnaire.  You might think I’m nuts (with some of the questions) but help a brother out.

 Brian (about 10 seconds later):  Done!

Me (about 3 days later still waiting on a response):  You didn’t think my questions were too crazy did you?

Brian:  Not at all.  They’re making me do something I’m not used to doing – think.  LOL.

Note:  One thing you have to know about Brian is he is super humble - to the point of self –deprecation even.  I think he always knew how good and how smart he was, but just went out his way to make us regular guys feel good. 


Now for the Q&A…………..


ABR:
  Who were your roommates? 


Brian:  Keenan 'Skinny' Mann, William 'Smoothy P' Lester, Paul 'Ice-T' Greene, John 'I Watch Cartoons All Day' Walker, and Tim Daniels

ABR: Who recruited you?

Brian:  Clint Bryant

ABR:  What did you think when you saw the facilities (Campus, Gym, Weight room, Apartment, etc.)


Note:  A capacity crowd in the old gym was about 300 people.  The weight room was a small barn that was actually a wooden structure.  It had 1 bench, some dumbbells, a barbell and some weights and one of those old time lat. pull-up contraptions where you put free weights on the end of the bar and pull up on the handle bars.  The one positive is that all the rust made the weights heavier than they were marked so we all got a little stronger than we expected.


Brian:  When I saw the gym, I couldn't believe that it was a Division 1 college gym.  The same goes for the weight room.  I thought the apartments were nice both years, especially my sophomore year when we moved into the apts. by the gym that was being built.

ABR:  What is the funniest story you could tell us about Coach Bryant?

May not be funny to anybody outside of the program, but I still laugh when I think about Coach Bryant giving the ol' 'breakfast is mandatory' speech to us. 'When I say breakfast is mandatory, that's what the hell I mean'.  And 'Get yourself a croissant, fruit or what have you'......Every time I talk to Derek (Stewart), it comes up.

ABR:  Who from any current or former Jaguar team would you like to have played with?


Brian:  Buck Harris, just because I knew him from him being a local guy and playing with us sometimes in the offseason; knowing what a good guy he is and knowing his brothers.

ABR:  What do you regret most about your college playing days?

Brian:  ACADEMIC SUSPENSION. I feel like I let everybody down - coaches, teammates, myself- being young, immature and way too comfortable not going to class.  We had such a good core of players, I feel like we could have done some special things (i.e., go to the NCAA tournament) if we kept the same core of players together. In a way, I still feel like I turned my back on my teammates and coaches.  I could have sat out for a couple of semesters on suspension and come back to Augusta.  I don't have a lot of great qualities, but I consider loyalty my #1 quality.  By electing to go elsewhere, I still feel dis-loyal to the program/people in the program.  I wish I could turn back time and do it all over again.  All that being said, the coaches/players have still make me feel like I'm part of the program 20 plus years later (i.e., always inviting me back for the alumni game and keeping me in the loop of what's going on in the program), which means a lot!

ABR:  Do you have a particular memory from your days as a Jag that stands out more than most,
basketball related or otherwise?

Brian:  Not one in particular.  Just good memories of laughing off the court/competing on the court with teammates

ABR:  Do you have anything you want to confess to Coach or a team mate now that enough time has passed?


Brian:  Can't think of any right now - not saying I was an angel!

ABR:  What would you do differently if you could go back and re-do your college years?

Brian:  I would have put down the Nintendo (or Sega or whatever it was at the time) joystick and taken my butt to class!!! I have 2 years of memories/good times to look back on; and wish I would have had 4.  It would have been real special graduating with you and Smoothy P, being that we were Clint's first class.




From left to right above:  Keenan Mann, Brian Schmall, and William ‘Smoothy P’ Lester; fall 1989


ABR:  We all juggled basketball, academics, and "extracurricular activities". How did you
do?

Brian:  AWFUL, see above-mentioned ACADEMIC SUSPENSION story.  Actually, I was usually at the gym or playing video games (sophomore year) with Derek & Ced (Cedric Hurst).    I don't recall any of us really partying a lot (other than Rob).  Unfortunately, my priorities were not where they should have been, and academics took a back seat to pretty much everything else. The end result was me flunking out.

ABR:  If you had to produce an episode of "Unsung" based on your time as a Jag, who would be your subject (doesn't have to be a teammate)?

Brian:  During the time I was there, I would have to say both Dip & Gerald.  They always knew how to push player’s buttons and motivate them (behind the scenes). There were times in the offseason that I wanted to punch both in the face after they beat me & my team (and talked shit) in 2 on 2; or 5 on 5 or whatever we were playing that day. At the time, I thought that they didn't like me and were just trying to get under my skin (which they ALWAYS seemed to do), but they were just trying to push me to be the best player possible. I remember a time that I came to the gym in the offseason and told Dip that I didn't feel good and wasn't going to play ball that day. He looked at me and said Robert Dowdell (point guard at Coastal Carolina) probably shot 500 jumpers already, and he's going to kick my ass when we play them next year, and closed the office door before I could even respond.  Sure enough, I stopped dead in my tracks, grabbed a ball and started shooting.  Those guys really knew what to do/say to get me going, but they also helped out with little things along the way like Gerald driving the van to Horne's every night. Looking back, those were great times!


Note: Dip Metress, the current head coach of the Jags, was an assistant coach during Brian’s time there as was Gerald White.  The on campus dining facility didn’t serve dinner, so Coach Bryant made an arrangement with Horne’s, a country style buffet restaurant on Gordon Highway.  Gerald used to drive the team van to Horne’s every weeknight at around 6 o’clock.


ABR:  Do you have anybody you want to thank for their influence or help during your time on the team?

Brian:  Dip & Gerald (see above answer)

ABR:  Anybody you want to apologize to?

Brian:  Yes, to all of my coaches and teammates for flunking out!  Like I mentioned earlier, I feel like I let everybody down, to Clint, who stuck his neck out for me and offered me a scholarship when NOBODY else did, and to my teammates, who I left hanging because of my immaturity and inability to prioritize (i.e., going to class).  I'll never totally forgive myself.
ABR:  I happen to know you resumed your college basketball career at Radford University in Radford, Va. How long did it take you once you left Augusta to get back on track?

Brian:  It took me about a month into my 1st year there to get back on track.  I sat out a year and went to community college/worked full time prior to going to Radford, so I didn't get to play ball & work out as much as I wanted/needed to.  I felt a step slower than normal (which made me about 2 steps slow!)

ABR:  Did you play two full seasons there?

Brian:  Yes

ABR:  What was the best advice you got while you were playing?

Brian:  Dip used to tell me that every day I'm not in the gym working on my game, there's 200 other D-1 point guards working that will embarrass you when you play them. Definitely kept me in the gym!

ABR:  What was the best advice you've gotten since?

Brian:  Clint (Bryant) sent me an email in October 2010 when I first started cancer treatment.  The email came completely from out of the blue.  He said some kind words and then listed 3 of his famous sayings (you remember the ones that were on the practice schedule everyday):

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out”
“It is when you focus on things outside of your control that you lose control”
“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials”


He closed the email by telling me that he loves me.  You know I'm not an emotional guy at all, but that email brought a tear or 2 to my eye.  The only 2 times that I shed a tear during that whole ordeal was when the nurse told me what I had, and when I read that email (haven't told anybody that).  I was actually sitting in an office at work, and had to play it off/go outside and get myself together.  For him to take the time to say what he said, to a guy that pretty much turned his back on him 20 years ago, meant sooooo much to me.  I'll definitely NEVER forget that!

ABR:  You mentioned cancer treatment.  If it’s not getting to personal, what’s the story?
How or why was it discovered?  How are you now? How long did it take you to recover?

Brian:  Around June 2010 I felt a lump in my right groin, which got bigger and bigger over the course of the next couple of months.  I also was getting tired real easily.   Just doing simple tasks like walking the dogs or walking up stairs drained me.  I work out almost every day and know my body pretty well, so I figured something was wrong.  I'm also not a guy who NEVER goes to the doctor.  Long story short (or short story long), I went to a few doctors.  One diagnosed me with a hernia!  Then one did a biopsy on the lump and followed up with a PETSCAN and I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes).  Twenty four weeks of chemo & radiation and a follow up PETSCAN and I have been in remission since May 2011.  I just had a little scare and minor surgery in 2012), but my oncologist says that you have to be in remission for 5 years before you're considered cancer-free, so I'm not getting too comfortable.  I still have follow-up visits/blood work/CT SCANS at least twice a year so if it comes back (there's apparently about a 60 percent chance, but that number decreases with every year in remission), we can catch it early and treat it. Took me just a few months to gain all of my weight back (about 20-25 lbs.) and get my taste buds back to normal (mostly ate pizza w/o sauce when I had an appetite during treatment).

ABR:  Last question on this topic, and please don’t feel like you have to give some profound answer here.  Were you able to draw on your sports background in any way to help you through the ordeal?

Brian:  Absolutely.  I tried to turn my treatment into a game or competition with myself.  I wanted to make it my mission to NOT let it get the best of me and NOT miss a day of work. That mentality or competition kept me focused during the whole ordeal.  In the first few weeks, I didn't even tell my boss or co-workers what was going on, and quietly went to chemo on Saturday (once a week for 8 hours) and radiation on the way home from work (5 days a week for about 15 minutes).  As the treatment wore on and started affecting me, I figured I better at least tell my boss what was going on, just in case I had to miss some time.  I was also getting sores in and around my mouth and losing weight, so I didn't want people to start making stupid comments and I would have to fight them.  LOL (Actually 1 idiot co-worker made a comment to me about wearing shirts that are too big for me.  I still give him a death stare when I see him!).  Now there were some ROUGH times during treatment when I seriously debated calling my doctor and telling him,  I'm done with this shit/can't take it anymore/whatever happens, happens, etc.,  but I'm lucky enough to have a great support system (like teammates in college) that helped me through.  I also looked around the chemo room every Saturday and saw all elderly people and me and figured if they have enough heart to go through this at their age, then I would be a complete p_ _ _ _ if I quit. Also had an ex-teammate/close friend from Radford that promised an all-expenses paid trip to Jamaica to celebrate once I got done with treatment, so that definitely helped me get through!


Note:  Thanks to Brian for sharing that with me/us.  I didn’t have the presence of mind to say it to him then, but he’ll know when he reads this that his support system has gotten a little bigger now should he need to call on it again. 

ABR:  People say college was the "funnest" time of their lives. Do you agree or disagree? Why?

Brian:  Yes, because it's the only time in life that you're around a large group of people the same age, with a lot of the same interests, goals, etc. You also don't have a ton of responsibility, debt, etc. that you start getting as soon as you leave school.  Maybe I have a different perspective being part of a team, because that camaraderie with teammates is really what made it fun for me.



ABR:  Was it hard to leave before your four years were up?

Brian:  Yes, I don't want to beat a dead horse, but again I still feel to this day like I let A LOT of people down!

ABR:  Someone recently asked a former player who has also been a long time follower of the Jags to list the top 5 point guards from your era to the present. You were ranked number two.  What's your reaction to that?

Brian:  Either that former player is/was blind, or there were some real crappy point guards after me!!! LOL.  No, that's pretty surprising to me b/c I know there have been some really good teams/players since our time.  It’s definitely humbling to hear that!  I always wanted the respect of the players I played with (and players that came before me), which meant WAY more to me than what anybody outside of the program said.

ABR:  When you look at youth sports today, there's always a big deal made when a team brutally blows out its opponent. The notion is that the winning coach and players are
somehow unsportsmanlike. You and your teammates took some pretty goods beatings
while you were there. Did you ever feel "wronged" by the other team or its coaches - like they were trying to show you up? If not, what did you feel?

Brian:  That thought NEVER crossed my mind.  I guess it's a new day and age (or should I say SOFTER day and age).  I was always pissed at myself for getting blown out/allowing our team to take a butt-whooping, but never had any animosity towards the other team.  That being said, there was an incident when I played overseas when I took out a Luxembourg guard for trying to dunk at the end of an OT game when they were up by 7 or 8 and running out the clock (we stopped fouling).  He was supposed to be the best player in the country, and didn't do a damn thing all game, but wanted to show out at the buzzer when we stopped playing.  Almost started a riot.  LOL  But I think that situation is a little different than a team blowing out another team from start to finish.

Note:  This last response is typical Schmall - dead serious about the game and playing it the right way.  There’s a story I’ve told to co-workers and a few others many times over the years from our freshman season.  We were on the road and were getting absolutely pummeled.  During garbage time, one of our seldom used teammates, who happened to be a senior, shot and made a meaningless three point field goal and proceeded to get quite animated in celebration of his feat.  The buzzer sounded to put us out of our misery and we proceeded to the locker room to stew before Coach’s post game speech.  During the wait, the sharp shooter continued to celebrate, even asking one of his buddies what he thought of the shot.  Brian snapped.  He got up and got in his face and let him know how pathetic it was to be thinking of individual accomplishments considering what we had just failed to accomplish as a team.  In communicating this to our teammate, he used every foul word and foul word combination imaginable.  He was all but daring this particular teammate to take a swing at him.  But he didn’t.  Instead the teammate clammed up and Schmall had indirectly declared to the whole team what he was made of.  I would say he gained our respect that day, but he already had it.  I guess he reinforced that our respect wasn’t misplaced.

ABR:  Now the first time I talked to Dip about what you were doing a few years after basketball was behind all of us, he told me something that completely cracked me up – he said you were
a police officer.  Not that you were some thug criminal,
or anything close to that, but I never pictured you in that line of work. How did you end up there?  Did you like it and are you still in that line of work? 

Brian:  I basically needed a job and a police department in the Tampa, Fl. area (I was living in Miami at the time) was advertising that they were willing to pay you while you went through the academy, so I figured what the hell???  The recruiter also described a team-like atmosphere with all of this camaraderie amongst officers, which turned out NOT to be true (enjoyed some of my time in law enforcement, but there's a lot of back-stabbing and lack of trust amongst co-workers). Never shot a gun before the academy, so I wasn't exactly a natural.  Worked patrol for 6 years and undercover for 4 years, and got out as soon as the opportunity presented itself.  PLENTY of discipline during my 10 years (you know my temper and you know I'm not afraid of a good confrontation....LOL).

ABR:  What kind of work do you do now?

Brian:  I've been an Insurance Fraud Investigator for The Hartford for the last 3 years or so.

ABR:  Do you have any plans to come back to Augusta in the near future?

Brian:  Yes, I will definitely be back for the alumni gathering this year.  I want to redeem myself for the pathetic, embarrassing performance in 2007, and more importantly looking forward to story-telling at T-Bones with Clint, Dip and the fellas!

End of Q&A.  Is anybody who didn’t play with Brian just a little jealous right now?
After Brian sent me his responses, he followed up with a text to make sure I got what I needed and the following exchange ensued….

Brian:  Making sure you got the email.

Me:  I did man.  The responses were awesome.  Thanks.

Brian:  Thanks again for the love.  It means a lot and has actually been kind of therapeutic for me talking about the good ol' days and the present.  I know I haven't exactly been the best friend to a lot of people (i.e., you) over the years, but that doesn't mean that I don't consider you family.  Not to make excuses, but I've always felt embarrassed and ashamed of how I left Augusta; which is probably why I've kept my distance from so many people there since I left.  Even if we don't communicate for months or years, I hope you know I would drop anything & everything if you EVER needed something from me, just like I know you would do the same for me.  We'll always have that unspoken bond!

On a lighter note, do you remember when the female cop came up to Derek/Ced/Bernard's apt next door and called me "Military Cut"???? Don't think I've ever seen you laugh that hard!!!!

Note:  Brian NEVER liked his haircuts.  In fact, he would usually return from the barbershop cursing the barber.  He’d then spend the next hour or so between the couch and the bathroom mirror lamenting his predicament.   So my laughter at the time probably stemmed from the notion that the cop was twisting a knife she didn’t know existed.


Me:  Thanks again for helping a brother out.

Brian:  Anytime.   Can’t wait to see the finished product!  Brought back some great memories!
Me (just now):  Sure did!

Augusta Basketball Report

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