North Texas Daily

‘Manager Games’ offer basketball support staff an outlet on the court

‘Manager Games’ offer basketball support staff an outlet on the court

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‘Manager Games’ offer basketball support staff an outlet on the court
January 16
17:59 2018

“Let’s go, let’s go,” North Texas men’s basketball coach Grant McCasland screams emphatically at his team.

During all the commotion, two graduate student assistants stand with military-like focus, waiting on McCasland’s instructions. In a sport where the ball is always moving and the clock is constantly ticking, having the opportunity to unwind does not come often.

But when it does, the graduate assistants savor the moment on the court.

Luis Lopez and Chris Blakeley are both graduate assistants for the North Texas men’s basketball team. While each day brings new challenges, a majority of their time is spent working tirelessly behind the scenes on player development and scout preparation. The two spend up to 40 hours a week helping coaches with game plans and facilitating practice – all while working toward obtaining a master’s degree from UNT.

Before they started the quest to become basketball coaches, they were driving down the court and dishing out assists during their undergraduate days of playing college basketball. Blakeley played at Abilene Christian University while Lopez was a team captain at Oklahoma Christian University.

“We do anything and everything with this program,” Blakeley said. “Anything and everything to win.”

Despite both playing careers being over, the two still get to experience the ecstasy of competition every time they compete in the Manager Games. Along with those two, three other members make up North Texas’s manger team. Each player plays a vital role within North Texas basketball program, from serving as a team manger to overseeing basketball operations. Lopez even managed to convince the strength and conditioning coach, Phil Baier, to join the team.

Student managers and members of the athletic department at Michigan State University established the Manager Games, an underground basketball league, back in 2014. The founders believed managers and other members of the support staff needed an outlet to break up the monotonous schedule of working for a Division I basketball program.

“It’s pretty fun just to go out there and compete against guys that you’re just now meeting for the first time,” Lopez said.

This is the first year North Texas has ever been involved in this type of league. Typically, head coaches prefer those who work behind the scene to focus on ensuring the team is preforming up to standards. McCasland has embraced this challenge though and is one of their biggest supporters.

“The day after the game he sometime ask how did the game went and stuff,” Lopez said. “He’s all for us putting in the work and doing what we got to do. When there is some free time go out there and compete which he loves to do. So, we like doing that.”

Since the league was established, its participation has increased dramatically. Within the first two seasons, 165 DI programs played in more than 657 games. A new incentive was added to the league by creating a postseason tournament for the top 64 teams. Ultimately, eight teams will be chosen to have the opportunity to compete for a national championship title in San Antonio during the NCAA Final Four weekend in March.

All games are played the night before each collegiate team competes against its respected opponent, usually on Wednesday and Friday nights.

At North Texas practices, the team often emphasizes the importance of being competitive. Lopez has tried to hold up his end of the bargain by averaging 25 points this season — 12 times the amount he averaged as a senior in college.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to score very often, so I’m definitely transitioning into a scorer now,” Lopez said. “There’s no practicing involved. We just lace them up and go out there the minute before. It’s fun. A lot of fun.”

The Mean Green manager team is ranked No. 28 out of 144 teams and is expected to climb in the standings. They sit 2-1 on the season with the only loss of the season coming against the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, the Charlotte 49ers.

In a league like this, filled with basketball enthusiasts and players aging from 18 to mid-40’s, one might think they would take it easier on one another, but it is actually the complete opposite.

“It’s tough basketball,” head team manager Bryce Gibson said. “It’s kind of funny, but at the same time very hard. The guys are out there to win.”

Since North Texas joined the league it has allowed a hardworking group of student coaches the opportunity to do something they rarely get the chance to do during the season —relax.

“We work hard a lot, especially for guys like Chris and Luis who are here from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day,” Gibson said. “We all played at some point at some level. So, it’s a good way to relax and enjoy ourselves a couple hours a week.”

Featured Image: The basketball managers team poses for a photo at practice. Courtesy

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Jordan James

Jordan James

Sports writer covering Mean Green Sports and more

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