Padecky: Ex-SSU scrub now inspirational author
Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 6:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 6:35 p.m.
Sports, despite the illusion it offers, is about the worker bee, not the queen. It is about the player not destined to be a star, who will not be famous, who — as this is the tough one for people — doesn't even start. Look at most any game at any time and there will be more players watching it than playing it. These are the minions that the headlines don't reach, whose faces we don't recognize, who fight discouragement daily, who form the backbone of any sport.
Kevin Christensen, 29, has written a book for you, for us, about how to gain value and accomplishment from a situation that apparently offers so little of each. After all, what relevance can a Kobe Bryant autobiography have; none of us share a smidgen of the skill of one of the top 10 talents to ever play basketball. Unless we like playing voyeur and, really, how long is the shelf-life on that one?
But no one has written, until now, what to do when you not only don't start, you don't even play. You're the last man on the bench and the other team knows it.
“Cal State San Bernardino had a bounty on Kevin's head,” Sonoma State basketball coach Pat Fuscaldo said of his former player. “The coach told his players that if Kevin ever scored a point, the player defending him who would run laps later. Players would be pulled from games if Kevin scored on them.”
This is how it was. A walk-on redshirt out of El Camino High in Sacramento in 2001, Kevin Christensen was held out of practice, so ineffective was he. Fuscaldo even at one point said, “Kevin, your lack of athleticism and speed puts you at a huge disadvantage on defense. I don't think you can guard my mother and she is 70 years old. You may never be able to play for me.”
He took 30 shots his freshman year, averaged 1.9 points his sophomore year, averaged 3.3 points his junior year.
This is how it was. As a senior in 2005-06, Christensen started 24 of 27 games for SSU, was voted all-conference and played a year in Europe.
This is how it may end. “Bench Rules” has so impressed a talent agent in Los Angeles, it is being turned into a movie script and will be pitched to Disney, among other studios.
“I want Justin Bieber to play me,” joked Christensen, assistant athletic director and head basketball coach for both the boys and girls at Sonoma Academy.
“I'd like Vince Vaughn,” Fuscaldo said.
Sure, whatever, both men said. The message for them is not fame. The message is pushing past depression, a bruised ego, the temptation to be an spiritual cancer in the locker room. It's like finding water in the desert. It's there but you've got to work for it. To that end, “Bench Rules” is timeless and limitless. It can be applied to any sport; in fact, it can be applied to life. Who among us has not been at the end of the bench, discouraged, depressed?
“I took it as a challenge,” Christensen said of Fuscaldo's crack about his poor defense. “He was right. I couldn't guard his mother.”
What Christensen did was not suck on his binky, feeling sorry for himself. He worked harder, improved, didn't quit, ignored people who unconsciously baited him to be a malcontent. He watched the game as a coach, realized he loved the game and — this is the most sensational part — decided to push his teammates in practice.
“Even if I couldn't play,” said Christensen, “I could contribute by making my teammates better.”
Christensen let go of his pride and embraced his teammates.
“The thing is,” Fuscaldo said, “he started at 18 doing this. Incredible.”
“If I was to go up to 100 players,” Fuscaldo said, “and give them this choice: You could score 30 points but your team would lose or you could sit on the bench and your team would win, I think every player would rather score 30 points and lose. Except Kevin. That's why what he did was so remarkable. He was giving unconditionally. He didn't know if it would ever lead to him starting.”
Christensen didn't know that by the time he made it as a starter in the 2005-06 season, Fuscaldo would let him run the team. For the first and only time in his 31 years of coaching, Fuscaldo said he sat on his chair during the game and let his point guard (Christensen) run the game. For a coach who can fulminate at the drop of a hat, Fuscaldo considered that inaction the ultimate compliment he could give Christensen.
Christensen was named SSU's Most Inspirational Player as a freshman, when he only took 30 shots the entire season. He received the award again as a sophomore, and then again as a junior, and then again as a senior. By then, there was nothing left for SSU to do but call it the Kevin Christensen Award.
The book? He wrote it for his kids at Sonoma Academy and the players at SSU. The outcome? Well, like the basketball career of the man himself, it may defy logic, especially, and I mean no disrespect, if Justin Bieber were to play him.
For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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