Editor's Note: Ryan Marks is the head coach at Division I independent Texas-Pan American and is chronicling his season for ESPN The Magazine. In his latest college hoops diary, he explains that you can be a hoops fan or you can be a coach. But you can't be both.
Offer me a ticket to take in my hometown Chicago Bulls and I’ll gladly accept it. But if you’re looking for a cheering buddy, you’ve got the wrong guy. All I’ll do is analyze coach Tom Thibodeau’s D or dissect how Derrick Rose split a trapped ball screen.
Once you become a coach, your days as a hoops fan are over.
My father took me at age 4 to see Illinois squeak out a win over a Northwestern squad coached by the legendary Tex Winter. From that point on, I became a rabid supporter of all Chicago teams, both prominent and obscure. I still have pennants for the short-lived Hustle (Women’s Pro Basketball League) and the even-shorter-lived Horizons (Major Indoor Soccer League).
I got my first coaching gigs as a high school junior, guiding a group of sixth-graders and assisting our JV team before my five minutes of varsity PT. That officially began my transformation from fan to student of the game. A year later, with my parents out of town, I called in sick to school, drove from Chicago to Indianapolis and scalped a ticket to the first round of the 1989 NCAA tournament.
Despite the face-painted, pom-pom-waving enthusiasts around me, I intensely studied every tactical adjustment in all four games. What a thrill it was 20 years later to face current West Alabama coach Mike Newell, who led UALR against Louisville that day, and Utah Valley’s Dick Hunsaker, my Great West rival who was the associate head coach for Ball State during its upset of Pitt.
So if anyone needs early gift ideas for my birthday in April, I’d love two good ones to the Red Sox-Cubs series at Wrigley. Or a possible Wings-Blackhawks playoff showdown (cue up “Chelsea Dagger”!).
Sure, I’d appreciate a seat to watch the Bulls claw their way to the best record in the Eastern Conference. But it certainly won’t be as festive for me, sitting quietly inside the United Center while I steal ideas for ways to improve the Broncs.
You can follow coach Marks on Twitter @CoachRyanMarks