Puff Summers: “Why not me?”

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Summers was a high school honorable mention All-American out of Woodberry Forest High School in Virginia. When considering college, Summers didn’t receive any scholarship offers and had to try-out for the Davidson (NCAA Division 1) team his freshman year. He played for the Wildcats from 2001-2005 in a reserve role. His favourite moments from his time as a student-athlete include beating UNC his freshman year at the Dean Dome, and making it to the NCAA tournament that year, losing to Ohio State in the first round. During the course of his four years he had the opportunity to play against Duke every year (Carlos Boozer, Jay Williams, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy, Luol Deng, JJ Redick, Sheldon Williams) and North Carolina (Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants, Sean May, Jawad Williams), as well as other pros such as Luke Walton, Kevin Martin and Jeff Green.

Professionally, Summers played in England, Ireland, and Portugal as well as a few summer leagues in Spain and Italy. Since then, Summers has been in Ireland and has played for Ballina, Moycullen, and even had a guest appearance for Belfast Star last year when they were without their professional import. This year, Summers is playing with the Dublin Thunder, who recently won the 2011-2012 National Cup.

Summers first arrived in Ireland to play basketball and it has become his home. He met his fiancee Lynda here and is the proud father of their 3-year old daughter Kaitlyn. The Courtside Collective is excited about how Puff is using his talents and passion to help develop a better basketball culture in Ireland through his organisation ‘Why Not Me Hoops‘.

1) What is Why Not Me Hoops all about? 

Why Not Me is the name of all the camps and clinics and individual workouts I conduct, or will be conducting, in Ireland. But it’s more a mentality than anything.

I’ve been over here for four or five years now, and every team I’ve played on, my Irish teammates have held American players to a higher standard than which they hold themselves. It’s constantly drove me crazy because, as a pass-first point guard, I have always tried to get the very best out of all of my teammates, and I’ve always expected just as much from my Irish teammates as I would a teammate from college back at Davidson. Since I’m living here and have become so involved in basketball in this country, my goal is to make it so that every player I come into contact with develops the mentality that if someone else can be successful in this game (and there are millions of success stories in basketball) then we all, to one degree or another, can be successful.

Why Not Me is all about asking ourselves that very question…Why not me?

I’m just tired of hearing people say that Ireland is too small a country to produce good players or basketball’s not enough of a priority in this country for it to produce good players or one excuse after another. Obviously, what I plan to do with Why Not Me is train players and put them in situations that are harder than games. In doing that, I always try to create an environment where negativity does not exist and even when my players struggle with new things that I may introduce, they are constantly improving from stepping outside of their comfort zones.

Basically, Why Not Me Hoops is about erasing the idea that we have limitations. We’re never the tallest or strongest or fastest or whatever. But that is irrelevant. Why Not Me is all about asking ourselves that very question…Why not me? Someone has to be the next big thing, someone has to be that person, why can’t I be that? Why shouldn’t I be? Derrick Rose had maybe the biggest Why Not Me speech ever in his press conference before the season last year –  he asked why shouldn’t he be the MVP:

2) How would you compare playing basketball in Ireland versus your experience in the USA? 

Tough question. Basketball is basketball anywhere, you know? No matter where you are, you get out of this game what you put into it. I’m happy playing basketball anywhere: whether it be in Cameron Indoor Stadium against Duke or in De la Salle against Belfast Star or UCD – in that crazy gym with the blue floor! The biggest difference, which has frustrated me at times, is that back home in the States, basketball is a part of the culture. It’s not weird to get up at 6 o’clock in the morning and workout before you go to school. It’s not absurd to show up to practice early and be ready to go before practice and want to get some extra shots up after practice. In fact, all of that stuff is pretty common for people who genuinely want to play basketball at a high level.

…you’re also battling gyms and schools and different places, trying to constantly get extra time in the gym to work on your game.

Playing basketball here is like two battles at once: you play and battle the competition but you’re also battling gyms and schools and different places, trying to constantly get extra time in the gym to work on your game. Ireland has always been a great destination for so many American players because you don’t have to practice that many times a week, it’s pretty laid back and everyone’s about “having the craic”. Some guys can get by with practicing so little. Unfortunately, I’m not that guy. My college coach used to always tell us that we “weren’t good enough not to bust our a**** everyday.” So, as far as the standard of basketball is here, obviously it’s not as high as what I experienced at Davidson but I was in an environment back home that made it a lot easier to improve. That’s why playing here has actually been a little tougher in that sense. Being in Ireland, above anything, has really made me understand how big a part of my life basketball is, and how much I’m willing to go through to constantly work on my game.

My college coach [Bob McKillop] used to always tell us that we “weren’t good enough not to bust our a**** everyday.”

3) What are your top 3 characteristics of a great basketball player? 

Wow! I could spit out about a thousand characteristics. I’ll keep this one as simple as I can.

#1 Trust. It has to be in that player’s character. He has to be able to be trusted by his teammates and his coaches. He also has to be able to trust his teammates and his coaches. It’s about accountability, coachablity and all those different features that you always hear coaches talking about. In order to be trusted, you have to be a student of the game: constantly seeking knowledge about the game, constantly looking for some edge to help you and your teammates get better. You have to be the hardest worker. This has to be a given — effort can never be a question for a great basketball player. This means that everyone in the gym knows that when a pressure situation arises, you have prepared yourself for it. Being a trusting player means you also have to be willing to make that extra pass. You have to be willing to put your body in the line of fire and take a charge. You have to be willing to get on the floor for that loose ball and help teammates up off the ground who are also out there laying it on the line.

#2 The player has to care. You have to care! The player has to care about getting better, the people around him, and the game itself. If he doesn’t, then when times get tough, when he’s 0 for 9 in the fourth quarter and his team needs him, there will be no foundation of love behind him when he’s trying to dig himself out of a hole. If a player cares, he’ll be willing to go that extra mile. He will be willing to take that charge, or get those extra free throws up after practice when you know you’re struggling from the line. If you care, you’ll be able to make a mistake and move on to the next play rather than dwell on the mistake because you understand that mistakes are a part of the game. Caring also breeds friendship and helps you communicate on a basketball court.

#3 The player has to be committed. I always try to teach the guys I work out the importance of simply showing up. There are SO MANY other things you can be doing. To be a great basketball player, basketball has to be a priority. You have to be willing to sacrifice something for this game.

I think a lot of other characteristics branch off of these three traits but trust, commitment and care will definitely get you started.

4) What advice would you give to any player out there who says they want to be the “best player they can be”?

Don’t be a liar! If a player says that to me, they better live that way. It’s not just giving your best effort when you’re on the basketball court. Being the best player you can be means that you are choosing the be the best in everything you do. You can’t be a great basketball player but skip all of your classes or be a great basketball player but always disobey your parents or regularly let your friends down. It all goes hand-in-hand. We all have a simple choice: take the game as just a game and play with our friends and have fun or take it to another level and let it change your life. If you want to be the best player you can be then everyday you do something to make that happen.

If you want to be the best player you can be then everyday you do something to make that happen

I know that that may sound super serious but, in all honesty, I came from a situation where, if I hadn’t worked as hard as I did in middle school and high school, I probably wouldn’t have even gone to college because I wouldn’t have been able to afford it without my scholarship. So for me, basketball was a life decision. I’m proud of who I have become, and who I am becoming, because of what this game has done for me. So if someone says I want to be the best player I can be – don’t lie! Go out and be that! It starts from the bottom up. You must train to have no weaknesses. If you have weaknesses now, you have to turn those weaknesses into strengths!

5) Can we expect a Why Not Me Hoops camp or clinic in Belfast in the near future?

Definitely. I’ve been up in Belfast before with Breda Dick’s “Hard-2-Guard” camp featuring the one and only, Jermaine Turner! I had a lot of fun up there. There are a lot of talented players up north and I’ve seen the energy & passion that people like Breeda and [Mike] Calo and Fulty [Adrian Fulton] have already instilled in so many players. I feel the foundation is already set for the types of things I try to bring to the table! I will definitely be up soon.

‘Like’ Why Not Me Hoops on Facebook or follow at twitter @whynotmehoops

If you would like to reach Puff Summers directly, contact him via email: whynotme.puff@gmail.com


About

Tony McGaharan

Co-founder of The Courtside Collective, Tony has been a player, scorekeeper, referee, coach and MC. A true fan of the game! In 2009, he coached women's basketball in Sweden for a season with the Umeå Comets ("Udominate"). He then returned home and worked with PeacePlayers International, which uses the game of basketball to bring young people together from divided communities. Tony has since joined Google and has worked in Dublin, Singapore, and now London. He is now working to create a new basketball league to provide a better basketball experience for ballers in central London and with the added goal of engaging young people in the sport.

One Comment

  1. Mike Calo

    / Reply

    Awesome interview! Puff is pure class!


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