Basketball can take people places that they never thought they’d be. The impact goes beyond bouncing an orange ball
Bruce Gaitor Jr. and Zach Lowe are both seniors on the men’s basketball team.With this being their last year, both are taking the season in stride, enjoying the last go around. For both players, basketball has helped better their lives but for different reasons.
Both Gaitor and Lowe are transfer students. Gaitor transferred before the start of his junior year after spending two years at Yakima Valley College. Lowe attended a junior college or JUCO before transferring to Green Mountain College, another liberal arts institution, before transferring to Knox after Green Mountain shut down.
Going JUCO isn’t always the easiest route. You have to compete every day and grind for everything. LeBron James once penned in his first-person Sports Illustrated essay with Lee Jenkins that “Nothing is given, everything is earned.” He was referring to being from Akron, Ohio, of course, but the saying can apply to the JUCO experience as well.
“I don’t think I’ll be the player I am today if it wasn’t for JUCO. It teaches you how to grind because nothing is given to you in JUCO, but you don’t have the meal plans and the fancy two big buses, you don’t get all that. You have to scrap for everything in JUCO,” Gaitor said.
Gaitor has played basketball since he was four years old. The one constant that has remained throughout Gaitor’s basketball journey has been his father. His dad had two hats he wore: coach and dad.
Its not easy to be a coach and a dad. There are so many dynamics that are in play when a dad is heavily involved in their son’s athletics.
The most popular side of the coach-dad dynamic is LaVar Ball. Ball is a loud, overbearing father who helped his son’s ÐÐ Lonzo, LaMelo, and LiAngelo ÐÐ become Division I prospects. However, his loud style also made his son’s targets of opposing players. Gaitor’s dad was nothing like LaVar Ball.
“My dad’s not one for all the talking. During my games, he wouldn’t yell or anything. He would just sit in the stands, legs crossed, arms folded and watch,” Gaitor said.
Now, the ride home was a different story.
“After the games, he would just let me have it. If I messed up, if I did anything wrong, he would let me know. He told me if the car ride home was silent, then I played well,” Gaitor said.
However, by the time Gaitor entered high school, where his dad was the varsity coach, they had developed a certain intuition. They each knew what was expected out of the other.
“He the person that made me love the game. He’s the person that made me hate the game. He’s all of the above. We’ve had our fair share of fights, but it all led up to this moment to where we are today,” Gaitor said.
Like Gaitor, Lowe’s love of basketball came through a family member. His father played basketball, as did his brother. It was Lowe’s brother who helped him develop that love of the game. Lowe has played organized basketball since he was in third grade, but the game has been around him practically since birth.
“I was one of those little brothers that whatever my older brother did, I did. So when he gravitated towards basketball, I gravitated towards basketball,” Lowe said.
Heading into the first game, which took place on Nov. 13, both seniors had different feelings about the season.
Lowe is a pure scorer, and he showcased that in the Prairie Fire’s win over Principia College by scoring 24 points. Before the game, Lowe and Gaitor were filled with a lot of nervous energy, but both wanted to win.
“You know, this being my last season, you want to finish it off as best as you can. Make it the best season, and you want to win games, but you also want to leave that culture here for the future guys. That’s a pretty big thing that you not only win for this year but for years to come as well,” Gaitor said.
Lowe felt those same sentiments. This season carried extra weight for Lowe as he was coming into a new team that was trying to change the culture.
The first practice and first game is also a reminder that his, and Gaitor basketball careers are almost over.
“You kinda like take it all in. I talked to a couple of the seniors like, ‘Guys, this is it for us. This [last practice] is the last first practice we’re going to have to just relish the moment,’” Gaitor said.
“It struck a chord that like I’m not doing this again. It makes you cherish the little moments a little bit more. The little moments,” Lowe said.
It’s hard to end something that has been a part of your life from a young age. Athletes have a routine that they go through when they’re a part of a team. Basketball becomes part of your identity rather than just a game. It helps you cope with stressful situations and, in some cases, helps student-athletes stay in school.
For Gaitor, basketball helped life-long friendships that go beyond basketball.
“My two best friends to this day, I met at my JUCO. We talk constantly, but it’s great because they’re both from Las Vegas. But I didn’t know him until I got to JUCO. So it just formed that brotherhood,” Gaitor said.
For Lowe, basketball is a place where he can relieve stress and find peace.
“It’s an outlet. It’s an outlet for whenever I’m feeling down on myself. I can always go out and shoot, and then immediately, my day will be better. It’s something that keeps me in class,” Lowe said.
Parting ways with basketball will be a tough transition for both individuals, but that’s not for another three months. Both are focused on making their last season one to rejoice for years to come.