By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
Athletes sometimes spend more time with their team than with their own families. For a college athlete, that statement rings true. But for Fairmont State men’s basketball team, the team is their family.
Team bonding is essential for any sport, especially for those sports that can’t coast off of one single individual’s performance. Basketball falls into that category and Fairmont State has been doing everything it can to bond together.
“It’s very important as a coaching staff. One thing I’m big on is spending time with the players,” Fairmont State coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “We coach them very hard and are very demanding, but we spend time coaching them in life, too.”
The guys on the team spend just about every second away from the game together, whether it be playing video games, watching movies, going out to eat or just studying game film. The bond that they share is something that Calhoun takes pride in, hoping that they will grow together in life as well as on the court.
Calhoun has had several stopping points en route to Fairmont State, which led to the second-year head coach picking up several coaching pointers.
During his time watching coaches, Calhoun found Cleveland State’s Gary Waters. From there, Calhoun learned how to interact closely with his players, how to keep them actively pursuing goals and how to bring the team closer together. Calhoun has since taken Waters’ practices and built on them.
“We’re reading a book together, going over it chapter by chapter. It’s a sports book,” Calhoun said. “We’re giving them different topics. Every player has a journal and they write in their journals after film sessions. We may ask them to do an assignment. We watched the Peyton Manning movie; we watched the Maurice Clarett movie, ‘The Youngstown Boys.’ We might give them assignments each night and then talk about it the next day, and I think that’s really bonded us.”
The added work from their coaches goes on top of the likes of studying film, working on their game and studying for their classes. But it’s something Calhoun believes will help them, especially in time of need when players go down with injuries.
“We’re taking it a step further and using this negativity, these injuries, as a positive and trying to build our relationships with one another. And I think it’s worked,” Calhoun said. “Injuries have brought us together. We talk about everything. Every day I pick a different topic. It’s gotten us closer as a team and brought us beyond basketball.”
Aside from their time on the court, players on the team also room together. For some, it may be a struggle to leave their family behind as an incoming freshman and room with a complete stranger that they’re expected to let into their comfort zone. But for others, the transition comes seamlessly.
“I build the relationship quick with these guys because we have so much in common,” freshman guard Caleb Davis said. “We have good times together.”
Davis, who rooms with freshman teammate Shammgod Wells, has been battling an infection for most of the semester but plans to return to practice this week. He said that during his time off, he’s been able to help the team in different ways such as through encouragement. Davis also said that the relationship he has with his roommate, Wells, came quickly.
“Both Caleb and Shamm are at least six hrs from their home so there’s a special bond there,” Calhoun said. “They respect each other so much.”
Wells agreed with Davis and Calhoun, saying the team was quick to welcome the young guys in.
“I’m a freshman and a lot of the other guys like Chase (Morgan) or Stevie (Browning) or Tommy (Scales), they really embrace me like I was one of them forever,” Wells said. “I come from New York, so there’s not a lot of people here that come from where I come from. So the guys and coach Calhoun, they’re really all I have.”
Wells takes the bond even one step further, saying that as a family, it’s easier to lovingly get on each other in practice to help his teammates improve their game.
“The team bonding stuff on the court really helps us. You can criticize someone and they’ll know that you really have their best interest at heart. It’s like playing with your brothers. You’re going to have fights sometimes. You’re going to have good times,” he said. “But when you’re together, when we go to war, when we have a game, you know that you can count on the people that’s next to you.”
Calhoun relishes those moments, saying that’s what the game is all about, building those special relationships.
“During the recruiting process one thing we tell these parents is, yeah, we want to win games and championships and hang banners and we want them to get their degree, but we want to go to their wedding one day,” Calhoun said. “At the end of the day basketball is going to stop for everybody, but you’ll always have those people and those stories.”
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.