Upon announcing his retirement from the NBA after 18 years, two NBA titles, and 10 NBA All-Star selections, the league’s three-point scoring leader (2,973 three pointers made), Ray Allen, wrote a letter to his 13-year-old self that ran in The Players’ Tribune in partnership with Chase. Below is the portion about UConn.
Dear 13-year-old Ray,
When you get off the school bus tomorrow, you’re going to be in a whole new world. This is nothing new. Every time your father gets stationed at a new Air Force base, you have to say good-bye to your friends and start a new life. It’s the same routine once every three years or so. New school, new culture, new faces . . .
When you start getting attention from colleges, some of your own teammates will say things like, “UConn? You’ll sit on the bench for four years.”
Just because you don’t drink, they’ll say, “Man, you’re gonna be an alcoholic once you get to college. You won’t be ready. All they do is drink there.”
A lot of people don’t want to see you succeed. Don’t get into fistfights with these kids. Trust me, it will accomplish nothing.
Instead, remember exactly who said those things.
Remember how they said it.
Remember their faces.
Keep these voices inside your head and use them as fuel every single day when you wake up.
And the voices telling you you’re the man? Those are the voices to keep out. When you start getting some national attention in high school, you’ll hear things like, “Ray’s jump shot is God-given.”
Listen: God doesn’t care whether or not you make your next jump shot. God will give you a lot of things in life, but he’s not going to give you your jump shot. Only hard work will do that.
Don’t be so naive as to think you’re ready for college ball.
Young fella, you’re not ready.
In high school, you might think you understand what it takes to be a great basketball player, but you will truly have no idea. When you get to UConn, your coach will show you what hard work really is.
His name is Jim Calhoun. Don’t get on this man’s shit list.
When you walk into the gym for that first practice, get ready for hell on wheels. You’re going to be all excited to put on your Huskies gear and start shooting around. But then Coach Calhoun is going to flip the script. “Freshmen!” he’ll say. “You think you deserve to wear this uniform? You don’t deserve the privilege. Not yet.”
Then the assistant coaches will start handing out these plain gray shorts and T-shirts to all the freshmen.
“I want to see some sweat,” Coach will say.
Up until that very moment, you’ll think basketball is all about going out and putting up some jump shots and showing your skill.
When you get put through Coach Calhoun’s first practice you’ll realize, oh, this game is a sonofabitch.
You will be put through the hardest workout of your life. You’ll be gasping for air, hunched over. But the thing is, the gym in Storrs is air-conditioned. Your body is used to playing in the sweatbox gyms in South Carolina, where there’s no air-conditioning.
At the end of the practice, coach Calhoun is going to line everybody up and walk down the line, looking at every player.
When he gets to you, he’ll look down at your shirt. There will be a single bead of sweat trickling down your Adam’s apple.
He’ll look at you. Then he’ll look at the little bead of sweat. Then he’ll look back at you.
“That’s it? I guess we didn’t work you hard enough, Allen.”
The next practice is going to be even tougher.
This man is going to damn near break you, but he’s going to make you a much better player and person. This will be your introduction to what it really takes to be great.
A few days later, you’re going to have one of the most memorable moments of your life. You’re going to wake up at 5:30 a.m. and go to the weight room to get your workout in, and then you’ll come back to the dorm and shower before class.
You’ll put on a shirt and tie, throw your backpack over your shoulder, and walk across campus to your first class of the day.
It’s early, so it’s still quiet. The leaves are crunching under your feet. You’re sore, but your clothes are on point. You got your work in. You’re prepared. You have a purpose.
I don’t know what it is about this moment in particular, but as you’re walking, you’ll think, Wow. I’m a college student. No matter what happens at the end of this tunnel, I’m going to make my family proud.
When you get to your public-speaking class and sit down, this girl will turn to you and say, “Hey, why are you so dressed up?”
You’ll say, “Because I can.”
In that moment, it will feel like you have conquered the world.
I could end this letter right here, and you would still probably be excited about what you are going to accomplish in life. But you still have an 18-year NBA career ahead of you . . .