Grunts: AKA Student Assistants

The students that serve as assistant coaches are the grease that keeps the basketball team on the move

by Josh Burris

Caleb Jacobs comes to the gym an hour and a half before the start of every men’s home basketball game to make sure everything is ready. He checks the locker room to make sure the players’ jerseys are at the appropriate locker. During the game he sits on the bench with the team along with fellow assistant Sean Blackburn and chart each possession.

Some people work hard to please themselves, while others, like Jacobs, work hard to bless and help others.

Jacobs is not concerned about who gets the credit. He is just there to serve. No one outside the basketball program really knows who Jacobs or his four fellow student assistants are.

They are the unsung heroes of the team according to Coach Pat Estepp.

“They give us so much, and for little to no recognition,” Estepp said. “They put in a ton of work and nobody really knows who they are.”

Who are these guys and what do they do?

So who are the student assistants? This year there are five of them and they answer to assistant coach Brandon Sok. They all have different responsibilities during practices and games. They put in between 15 and 30 hours each week, sometimes more.

Jacobs is the head student assistant and therefore delegates a lot. Jacobs, being in his third year of student assisting, describes himself as a basketball junkie. He makes sure everything is set up correctly for practices and that the rest of the assistants are on time. Some of his other responsibilities include packing, ordering food for road trips and helping with scouting reports.

Blackburn is a former player who was unable to play this year. He became a student assistant so he could stick around with the team. He helps with scouting reports and drills in practice. He also travels with the team to away games along with Jacobs.

Trey Barnes, or “the enigma” as some call him, is in his second year with the team. He is an accounting major and uses his numbers skills to chart and graph different stats and track time of possession from the scorer’s table at home games. Barnes also runs the score clock during practices.

Ben Bowden, also in his second year with the team, keeps track of what the team calls “hard hat” stats during practices and games. Hard hat stats include things like offensive rebounds, deflections, assists, first to the floor and charges taken. One player each week receives a hard hat based on these stats.

Bowden also keeps track of stats for the team’s Barnabas award. The Barnabas award, which is represented by a hammer, is designed to reward leadership. It is given out for things like enthusiasm, high fives and huddling up the team.

The last student assistant is freshman Shaun Mitchell. His primary responsibility is film. He films during practices and games and does other graphics work on the computer.

Most NCAA Division I schools will have four student assistants. Cedarville, which is Division II has five and last year had six. That is more than any other sports team on campus.

Why so many?

“Because I don’t turn them down,” Estepp said. “I figure I can find a job for all of them. It allows us to do more things.”

People have joked with Estepp about how many student assistants he has had over the last several years. Yet, he has always been able to find something for them to do.

“I don’t feel like you can have enough information about your team,” Estepp said. “So I rarely turn away a kid who wants to come in and work and be a manager.”

It also makes things easier overall for Estepp. He has two assistant coaches and five student assistant coaches working for him. The more help he has, the easier it makes his job.

He doesn’t have to worry about small things like reserving a place to eat while on the road. He doesn’t have to worry about getting guys to rebound for players who want to have a shoot around. He doesn’t have to worry about getting the locker room set up for games. That is what the student assistants are there for: to make life easier for the coaches.

“We are grunts,” Jacobs said. “Our job really is to take the load off Coach Estepp, Coach Sok and Coach (Nick) Fox so they can focus on coaching basketball.”

Service and reward

Estepp said the student assistants step up every week and take initiative.

A servant’s heart is what Jacobs said he strives for.

“I’m always trying to find ways I could better myself or better the team and just make a positive impact,” he said.

Jacobs does not just keep himself confined to the team though. He even helps assistant athletic director Chris Reese and his assistant Darren Miller from time to time.

“Those guys are just like us,” Jacobs said. “They are always at the gym after games in the late hours of the night. I want everyone in the facility to be able to say something positive about me. So I’m doing the best that I can.”

The student assistants put in a lot of work but only get a little money in the form of a scholarship to help pay for books. They also get gear from Under Armour like the players get.

Bowden said that the reward is so much more than just money and clothes though.

“I tell people this all the time. The best award is the ability to learn from such great coaches,” Bowden said. “Just the amount of things I can learn. I’m learning the inside and out of basketball programs. I also get to be around guys that love Christ and I still get to feel that team idea.”

According to Bowden, Jacobs said it best when he said, “You are basically majoring in coaching as well as your normal major.”

A lot of the student assistants who come through have an interest in basketball and coaching in the future. Women’s assistant coach John Leonzo was previously a men’s student assistant. A lot of valuable experience can be gained from this job.

Estepp said the guys usually come to him about working with the team. He said if guys are coming to him, then he knows they are going to work hard and they want to be there.

Servants, hard workers, basketball gurus and future coaches. This is who the men’s basketball student assistants are. They get little to no recognition for their work, but they are fine with that. They are gaining valuable experience from working with the team.

Their greatest reward comes in glorifying God through the work that they do.

“If you are willing to do everything for God’s glory, then Coach is gonna see that,” Bowden said. “The players are going to see that. And that is going to bounce off and reflect Christ to the other team we play. So I really think that is a key to anything we do is just glorifying God through all else.”

Josh Burris is a senior journalism major and the sports editor for Cedars. He is interested in sports broadcasting and reporting. He enjoys watching sports, lifting, and listening to rock and rap music.

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