Tristan Spurlock's Message: Learn From Me
Tristan Spurlock won't deny it. He was a star on the basketball court, but he wasn't getting the job done in the classroom.
He had immense basketball talent, and college coaches were falling over themselves to offer him a scholarship. He was a sophomore at Montrose Christian, one of the best high school basketball programs in the country.
But Spurlock's academics were slipping. And he needed a reminder that if he kept it up, he was going to suffocate his college basketball chances one bad grade at a time.
He found that kick in the pants in the First Team program, which he was accepted into two years earlier. Armed with information on the scholastic standards of playing NCAA basketball, the leaders of First Team sternly reminded Spurlock that his academics weren't just a priority--they were a necessity.
Spurlock got the message, and turned his grades around immediately. He accepted a scholarship to the University of Virginia (he latered transferred to Central Florida), and during his final year at the First Team's annual conference he spoke to other participants about his wake-up call so they would not head down the same path.
First Team staff Duke Pryor remembers sitting in the session listening to Spurlock speak with passion and the hope of helping other First Team members.
"It was very inspirational to see him wanting to help others," Pryor said. "It made me want to go back to school and get better grades. He had such a powerful message."
Just before heading off to a basketball practice, Spurlock shared his experiences with basketball and the First Team program.
When did you get started playing basketball?
I started playing basketball at the age of 5. I was little when I started playing recreationally, playing 5-on-5 with friends. We had a Boys and Girls Club real close to home and that's where I started. It was the youngest you could start with the leagues and stuff.
Did you play any other sports?
I played football. My dad (Rodney) was an NFL agent. I played a little quarterback but I didn't pass too much. I kept it and ran.
When did you start to realize that you could possibly play college basketball?
For me, I've always been a basketball fan. It probably happened in eighth grade or ninth grade when I started looking into what high school I wanted to go to. I had a lot of big-time high schools in my area. Oak Hill is not too far. Montrose Christian is close. When you're looking at those types of high schools, you're definitely looking to play in college and hopefully further on after that.
You're 6-foot-8 now. Did you have a late growth spurt or did you always have height?
I was always tall. By eighth grade I was 6-3, 6-4. I was always the tallest one in my class.
Where did you first hear about First Team?
I first heard about First Team when I was in seventh grade. My gym teacher heard about the program and signed us up in seventh grade. We thought we were going after seventh grade but actually we were going after eighth grade entering into our ninth grade year. We actually had an extra year to hear about it.
What did you know about First Team?
You hear a little about it. You hear it's a conference and you don't really know what to expect from a conference. A conference seems kind of boring. But we got there and it was far from it. It was a lot of fun.
What was your favorite part of First Team?
There are so many different things. My first year was Greg Oden's last year. I got to meet Oden and Mike Conley. You meet people that you're friends with for life. You really get the chance to spend time and bond with fellow basketball players. (AAU) is so hard, and every other weekend you're going somewhere to play basketball. With First Team it was kind of like a break. You're still with your basketball friends, you still have your shorts on, and your AAU T-shirts. But you're able to do something different which was really good for me.
What was the recruiting process like for you?
It was exciting. You'll never be recruited like that again. You'll never be able to have coaches kissing your butt and the visits and everybody calling your name. It's a fun process.
What kind of advice did First Team give you about the recruiting process?
They always bring people back and they tell you what questions to ask. "Hey coach, what other wings are you recruiting?" Or "Hey coach, who's ahead of me? Coach, what type of offense do you run, or what do you see me doing next year?" They let you inside the coach's mind. They bring (former) head coaches in. They did a great job of really preparing you. A lot of people are like "No, the coaches just want me, they're all about me, they're telling me this, they're telling me that." But when they're bringing in big-time coaches that they've had there to come talk to you, that's huge.
What's the biggest difference between high school basketball and college basketball?
It's fast. Everything is much faster, much more intense, much more physical. There are no plays off. It's not as bad as I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be 100 times faster, but it is a lot of faster. It's not high school. It's a lot more physical. You have to be tougher-minded. You have to be able to go six days, hard, three hours, ready to work every single day.
Do you stay in contact with athletes you attended First Team with?
I've been keeping in touch with some of the guys, asking them how it's going. A couple of the First Team guys I was close with actually don't play basketball anymore. They play different sports like football or soccer or they're just now regular students in college.