A reflection on college basketball

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Phillip Ashton III, UD graduate student, recently played his last basketball game. Photo courtesy of Maurice Compton.

When the final buzzer rang on my high school senior night in 2017, I had thought my basketball career was over. I hadn’t received any offers to play in college, and I didn’t have much tape to show to recruiters. My coach and I didn’t see eye to eye on many things, and as a result I didn’t play much in games.

This was a common theme for me with basketball throughout my childhood. As early as fifth grade, when I first realized my dream to play college basketball, I had been told I wasn’t good enough.

Going into high school, I skipped eighth grade. My former classmates told me I wouldn’t be able to make the transition from middle school to JV basketball. I barely made the cut, eventually working my way into playing time and becoming a captain my sophomore year.

Still, even my family members told me I wouldn’t make varsity the next year. But despite my differences with the coach, I still made the team and found ways to lead in any way I could. It was during this time that I made the decision to attend the University of Dallas. My dream to play college basketball has never died, and I knew that the only way was to walk-on to the team.

People around me still doubted that I could make the team, let alone last four years, but at this point I was used to it. I sent an email to coach Jarred Samples, the then-head basketball coach and our current athletic director, explaining to him my situation before he gave me the opportunity to try and walk-on.

When I first stepped on the gym floor of the Maher Center, I knew two things. First, that I was easily the least athletically-gifted person in the room and I needed to make the most of my chance. And second, that I was home.

The UD basketball program embodies the culture of a family, and they became mine. They were the first people to truly believe in me, the first people who didn’t doubt that I could play at the college level. My teammates pushed me to get better every day, through the 6 a.m. practices and the intense workouts, and got excited for me when I showed improvement.

The belief my teammates showed in me and the dedication they put into the sport drove me to not only push myself to get better, but to want to push my team to get better. They showed me how to be a leader in my own right, even if it wasn’t physically out on the floor.

I made it my mission to bring as much energy to the team that I could. I would push others to their limits in practice and would be the loudest player on the bench in games. I was brutally honest with my teammates when they needed to be better, and I always gave the loudest praise when they did the right thing, even if it was barely noticeable.

Through UD basketball, I got the opportunity to live my dream. The experiences I’ve had and the lessons I’ve learned over the last five years will last a lifetime. 

Through basketball I’ve been able to travel the country with my closest friends. I’ve been able to play in arenas and conference championships. I’ve been able to play against, and score on, Division I opponents.

To everyone who told me I wasn’t good enough, at any level, thank you. You gave me the motivation to get better in my role every day. And to coach Samples, coach G and the entire UD basketball program, the opportunity you gave me can’t be put into words. The established culture and leadership are bringing great things to the program. Go get yours, and go Dallas!

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