Letter to a Young NDN Hooper

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    Dear Young Jaw,

    Young CooXooEii,


    I’m reaching out across the endless and wild years that lie between us, hand extended like the length of 17-mile road. It’s been a while since we last connected, a lifetime’s worth of strides, fumbles, and fast breaks. I hope this letter finds you amidst the chorus of your dreams. 

    Jaw, I know exactly where you are, the old gym at Arapahoe School, getting ready to enter your freshman year at LVHS. That’s when your hunger started. The rez raised you, and the rez made you, but if you want to soar as a hooper, you’ll have to venture beyond those boundaries, and LVHS is the first trial.

    Jaw, you have ambitious goals, I know.

    But you won’t bloom till your junior year. Till then, keep sharpening your assassins’ tools. Not what you want to hear, huh? Jaw, did you know a gray wolf pup must wait two years before he’s ready to hunt? 


    Sophomore year will teach you about patience. You won’t feel like a part of the team. You didn’t go to LVHS to play scrap minutes. You’re gonna mope around and blame your coach. You’ll post your wrath on Facebook. An insidious frustration will take root within you like an unwelcomed house guest.

    In the state tournament, your team will win the consolation championship. I laugh at that picture, at how you wear animosity on your face, not because it’s a 3rd place trophy but because you didn’t play.

    Jaw, at every level of basketball, you must endure a waiting period before you break through. But every trial you face will mold you into a better man.  


    Junior year is when your hard work bears fruit. You’ll be a starter. Your team will open with a 7-0 record. Despite barely playing in varsity last season, you’ll average 16 points and 6 rebounds and boast the second-best field goal percentage in 3A. 

    Your team will only have 6 losses, but I know you, Jaw. Those losses are gonna eat you up. Especially the Riverton loss. You won’t want to go to school or look anyone in the eye. You’ll feel like you let your whole school down. But that’s the weight of being a starter. I wish I had the right words to prepare you for that, but I don’t. You gotta wade through that mess, my friend. 

    The issue is that you have placed too much importance on basketball as your identity, and any damage to your identity is excruciating. Basketball is your life, and what remains when someone’s life is taken away? A burial.


    Senior year will be the best season yet at LVHS. You’re an athlete, Jaw, and the entire state will know. Individually, you’ll lead 3A in rebounding at 9.9, blocks at 3.2, and second in scoring at 20.5. Your team will dominate and lead 3A in scoring and rebounding.

    The team will have a new coach. Coach Ragan. He’s not gonna force you to stay on the low block. He’ll allow you to play without restriction. He’ll make you all better, and you’ll win the 3A West regional championship. Now that’s a picture worth smiling for.

    Here’s the thorn. The goal in high school hoops is state championships, and you won’t win one. If you went to Wyoming Indian, it’d be a different story. But you didn’t. Lander is the right place for you. As I mentioned before, the melody of defeat will send you into hiding. But like I said, I know you, and you’ll spend all your summers in the gym.

    That’s the cost of being hungry. 

    Here’s the redeeming aspect, by the time you graduate from LVHS, you’ll be a two-time All-State player and the only player in Wyoming nominated as a Mcdonalds All-American. You’ll be one of the few who get their figurine in the trophy case.

    Now it’s on to play D1 Ball, right, Jaw? Not quite.

    You’re not gonna have any offers. Instead, you’ll apply to two D3 schools, Colorado College and Oberlin, and you’ll be denied by both. 

    No, you have a year-long stop in New Hampshire.

    I know, Jaw. Why New Hampshire? Well, you’ll have the unique opportunity to play basketball at the most prestigious private school in the United States, Phillips Exeter. It’s called a post-grad year, and it’s a fifth year of High School to prepare for college. It’s a common thing for hoopers, so trust me on this.

    You’ll show up to Exeter’s campus feeling entitled, thinking you deserve every minute of play, but you’ll get humbled real quick. 

    Your opponents will be more skilled, stronger, taller, and more athletic than you’re used to in Wyoming. I’m talking Mid to High major D1 players.

    You’ll fight for every minute of playtime, which won’t be much. Garbage minutes. Can I be honest with you, Jaw? It’s gonna kill your confidence and your love for the game. 

    It will become so severe that your performance in practice will suffer. You won’t get any playing time, and you’ll lose more confidence, and if you do get in the game, you’ll be making mistakes. See the cycle?

    Jaw, I’m not a medical expert, but you’ll suffer from minor depression. Your diet will be out of whack, and you won’t love ball. It’ll be winter, dark, and cold. To top it off, you’ll be 2,000 miles from home. 

    Jaw, here’s the truth you’re not gonna be ready for that level of competition, mentally or physically. But that’s why you’ll be there. To get better. One day you’ll realize how unique Exeter is and how well it prepared you for Colorado College.

    That’s right. The school that denied you before. You’ll apply again and get accepted. I need you to stay patient. Your minutes will start small, but your coach has confidence in you. 

    Jaw, please stay patient.

    As a freshman, you’ll be a bench player. Eventually, you’ll be 6th man; for the last 9 games of the season, you’ll be a starter.

    Sophomore year you’ll start every game. That’ll be the best squad you’ve played on, and expectations will be high. But, unfortunately, none of that skill comes together during the season, and it’ll be a quick exit from the playoffs.

    The junior year team will be your favorite team of all time. The starting five will be you, three other juniors, Beel, Sean, and String, and the lone senior, Eddy. They’re your boys—your best friends, and you’ll be fortunate to play with them.

    You’ll be co-captain with Eddy. You’ve always been a leader, but now you’re ready to lead.

    Again, great team, great skill, and few wins. But you’re with your boys, and that’s how you’ll get through this hardship.

    Senior year will be another heartbreaking story. Your team’s spirit will be low. In fact, you’ll be burnt out from the stress of ball and school. It’ll have been four years. That’s a long time. You’ll have to drag yourself to workouts and practice. 

    But your team will need you, Jaw. Of course, everyone will look for someone to blame, but you guys must stick together.

    At the end of your career, you’ll be the fourth player in conference history to record 1,500 career points and 700 or more rebounds. Not bad kid. Not bad. You’ve always been a natural scorer. We both know basketball is a team sport and while your teams didn’t succeed, you went on a tear through your conference. Jaw, I know you’re waiting for me to tell you about a big win. It’s coming, I promise.

    Here’s a part I know you’ve been anxious to read about. What’s next? Pro ball? Overseas? G-League?


    Jaw, your knees will be destroyed by the end of your career at CC. No amount of ice or stretching will help. Surgery is unnecessary, but they’ll stay swollen, achy, and stiff.So, you’ll be faced with a question. Keep playing and risk injuring them more? Or walk away from the game?

    You’re gonna walk away.

    Plus, the burnout I mentioned is still heavy, and you won’t desire to touch a ball for a while. It’s not like you’re gonna roll over, though. After you graduate with a bachelor’s, you’ll go to Memphis to get your Masters. It’ll be a challenging transition period. 

    All that glory. All those applauds. Gone.

    When you visit the rez, it’ll be hard to tell people you’re not playing basketball anymore. Your identity will be gone. At least, that’s what you’ll think for a while. But the Bible says your identity is a child of the Most High, and as your Father, He has great plans for you.

    Jaw, as you find yourself inside the weathered walls of Arapahoe School gym, I need you to surrender to the sacred intoxication of the grind. Stick with Dave Meyers. His training and teachings build the mental and athletic foundations for everything.

    He always said, “It just takes one game to change everything.” Well, you played the game, and by the grace of God, it changed everything.

    Not many people have done what you did, Jaw, but don’t think you’re the only one. Plenty more are coming, and they’re gonna be better. 

    Remember the big win I mentioned? Well, all of the above is a big win. It’s the education, the poetry, the faith, new countries, cities, and family. But, when faced with trials, I want you to ask yourself one question, “is this where I’m supposed to be?” 

    When we meet again, I’ll give you the answer. 



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