Photos courtesy of Rachel Fuenzalida
It’s that moment of adversity where I learnt one of my biggest lessons at Metro; the difference between winning and losing. It’s the habits that we form every day, sometimes just the little decisions we make. Can you get extra shots up during the day, or do your legs hurt from practice? Can you do the extra classwork for a better grade, or is doing the bare minimum to pass ok? We were lucky, because we had so many great examples right in front of our eyes. Just looking around the locker room and seeing plaques of previous All-Americans gives you a lot of hope and desire to succeed. Seeing guys in your exact position having won National Championships and National Player of the Year awards proves it can be done, you just have to trust in the process.
You find yourself growing up quickly in a program like Metro’s. The people you meet and the lessons you learn happen so unexpectedly, it sometimes feels like you’re never truly comfortable. After a while, I began to enjoy that. I’m a different person after graduating from MSU Denver, a better person. I couldn’t imagine having a better overall experience.
The game of basketball became a career. I loved the fact that we got to play ball every day, and even days off would result in some shooting.
My first day in class was a really cool experience. Most of my teachers were really easy to talk to and get along with, and I enjoyed talking with them about previous players that they had taught.
In my freshman year of college I was pretty eager to find out what the academics would be like. Attending every class was one of the team rules, and being caught skipping meant you had a fun little date with the coaching staff on the running track with medicine balls. I’m really grateful that I had fellow Aussie, Nick Kay, in my freshman classes. We competed against each other for the best grade possible. I knew that I would never have a chance in Math, so I was really motivated to create interesting and well-written papers for other classes. I found if I treated academics this way, I organised myself far more effectively. By senior year I was able to make both basketball and academic commitments blend pretty smoothly, just as long as I had my due dates for assignments down on paper.
I remember my first phone call with Coach Clark, and the one and only thing he was willing to promise. He didn’t guarantee wins, and he wouldn’t guarantee minutes. “When you leave Metro, you’ll be a better a player”. That doesn’t really give you too much insight for when you start waking up at 4.45am for practice. It also doesn’t prepare you for when the team hikes up a 14,000ft mountain, or impatiently waiting on the baseline for coach to blow his whistle to start your next suicide. Even if you did know what was happening that particular morning, you didn’t really know until you were going through it.
Metro is such a competitive environment. You know as soon as it happens if you’ve done something wrong or if you’re falling behind. Coach is the leader of the pack, and that’s pretty evident from day one. Coach Clark was an assistant to Coach Mike Dunlap during those championship years, and would always talk about the things that Coach Dunlap did that he liked. It wasn’t always on-floor either, it could be anything. Having the team come to his house and interacting with his family, team functions like bowling or pool tournaments. The more time I spent around Coach, the more I realized how hard he was working to keep that winning tradition around. We would have long conversations in his office about life sometimes, it was nice to hear his perspective on different things aside from basketball. In saying that, our relationship wasn’t always smooth sailing. When he’s screaming at you for what feels like most of the three hour session that morning, it’s hard to walk up to his office later that day with a smile on your face. Sometimes it meant a quick hello and goodbye, sometimes it meant a lecture on how I wasn’t helping us get better. If I had solely used these moments as a basis for what our relationship was, we probably wouldn’t be the close friends that we still are today. Coach was always in my corner when I needed him most, and I’m sure I don’t stand alone when I say that.
I couldn't get a hold of the thing that I wanted most, a National Championship ring.
A lack of responsibility or accountability gets called out quickly, and the group gets punished accordingly. It’s hard enough doing the sprints alone, but even harder having your teammates looking over their shoulders after every sprint with the dirties. You kind of take for granted just how important your team’s support is until something goes wrong in your personal life, or even just on-floor. When things aren’t going well with Coach, or maybe you’re just having a bad day, it was nice to have a whole group of guys ready to pick you up. I already miss that close bond I had with my teammates from going up against each other every day, and I’m lucky to still have a lot of them as good friends.
You can't stop being a part of the program once you graduate. Former players were a huge help for me and I plan to help future players just the same.
The journey from Freshman year to Graduation Day is like no other, I would recommend that experience if you have the opportunity, just do it!
Mitchell McCarron is a professional basketball player, currently representing the Cairns Taipans in the National Basketball League. He is also a Metropolitan State University of Denver graduate.
Follow Mitchell McCarron on Instagram @m_mccarron