SEAN ELLIOT

SEAN ELLIOT … FIRST ORGAN TRANSPLANT PATIENT TO PLAY PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL (MARCH 14, 2000) … NBA CHAMPION, SAN ANTONIO SPURS, 1999 … 2-TIME NBA ALL-STAR … NBA PLAYER, 1989 2001 … NCAA PLAYER OF THE YEAR, 1989 … ALL-AMERICAN SELECTION AS A JUNIOR AND SENIOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA Playgrounds are the best place to learn the game, because if you lose, you sit down. GARY WILLIAMS, basketball coach SEAN ELLIOT 185 Iwas never a dirty player. I always tried to stay within the rules, and I kept my mouth shut on the court. I could trash-talk with the best of them, but I never did it unless I was called out.

PLAYING WITH MEN We had two courts at the YMCA in downtown Tucson, one for adults and one for kids. The adult court was filled with former pros and college players and they would go hard. I had to prove I could play with those guys, or else I’d have to stay on the kids’ side. That’s how I learned to compete hard and be tough on the court. WHATEVER IT TAKES In high school, I knew I had to shoot and score a lot for us to win, and I think I averaged thirty points a game. In college, it became a different story because we had plenty of guys who could score. Early on, I was not even the best player on my team. SEAN DOUBTS SEAN I remember watching an ESPN special on the Five-Star Basketball camps with my mom and we decided I just had to go there. When we began to ask around to find out how to get in, we were told, Why bother? You’re from Tucson. You’re not going to play big-time basketball, and you won’t go to a big-time college power. I ended up going and thriving at camp, as I got noticed for my play. The great moment for me was hearing Rick Pitino talk to us about working hard, maintaining the work ethic, and how to separate ourselves from the pack.

I took that to heart and worked nonstop on my game. My mom was so tired of driving me to the gym that she just bought me a bus pass to go on my own. My friends thought I was crazy, but I knew it would take extra effort to become a player and I was willing to give that effort. 186 IT’S HOW YOU PLAY THE GAME MORE THAN HOOPS My freshman year in high school, there was a feature story on me in the newspaper about how I played all sports.

I ran track and played soccer, baseball, and, of course, basketball. It seemed like I could excel at all sports. But if there was any sport where I was having little success it was basketball. As a freshman and sophomore, I played junior varsity, but I hardly stood out. THE MOMENT We lost our junior varsity opener by fifty-three points. But it got worse. I was working on a spin move, got twisted up, and shot in the wrong basket. It was sooo embarrassing, but it helped me grow as a person. After my freshman season on the worst JV team in the city, I turned to soccer. First game, I got slide-tackled and blew my knee out. I was in a cast from my hip to toe for two months and doctors told me I would never play again. After I got the cast off, I was told to stay off it for a couple more months, but I was in the gym the following weekend. The thought of the rest of the city getting an advantage on me while I healed was galling. What it did was make me redouble my training, concentrating on improving my shooting and building my leg strength.

POWERFUL WORDS When my sophomore season was set to begin, I was more than ready to play. I remember after one game in particular, my teacher’s boyfriend came up to me and said, Sean Elliot, you will be a player, a real star. It made me feel fantastic. Considering how far I and our team had come, well, I was just sky-high. TRANSPLANT After the 1993 season, I was feeling sick. Blood tests showed something was wrong, but the doctors didn’t know what. I took medication for six years, feeling sick on and off until 1999. I ended up needing a kidney transplant. My brother stepped up and gave me his kidney. My brother had helped me so much in so many different ways, this was just the most profound example. SEAN ELLIOT 187 I felt so good so soon, I would have trained in the hospital bed if I could have.

I think I was the first person in sports to play with a transplanted organ, and it was wonderful to be able to inspire people who were going through a similar ordeal. By playing, I let them know that they, too, could make a full recovery. The doctor told me I couldn’t make a comeback, the same as I’d been told back in high school, but I wanted to prove him wrong, too. I did. FINAL THOUGHTS I owe my attitude and cohesiveness to my mom. She did everything for me and my brother. I watched her work the graveyard shift at the hospital after her divorce. She’d leave at ten-thirty at night and we’d be on our own. My dad would help, but it was all on her shoulders. I didn’t want to let her down and learned to be really close with my brother. It was then and there that I learned I would do whatever it took to be successful.

If my mom could sacrifice for me, I would certainly sacrifice a personal life for my career. MY WRAP Sean always appreciated the opportunities he earned, and he was the first to tell me he was almost too coachable. We don’t often hear about being too coachable, but he gave up his athletic assets for Coach Larry Brown with the Spurs and Lute Olsen in college to conform to what the team needed. He later learned to keep his game and adjust it rather than change it altogether. He has put the same time and effort into broadcasting. If you like his work it’s because he spends the night before watching game tapes to make sure his comments help explain the game you’re watching.

 

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