Coaching a change of heart | by Marcus Dewberry

Coaching a change of heart | by Marcus Dewberry

On a day of giving thanks, we want to share with you Marcus Dewberry's story of how the hiring of Vince Alexander changed his perspective on basketball and life. Dewberry, a senior guard on the men's basketball team, was forced to deal with a coaching change the summer before his junior season. Below he tells the story.

It was November 10, 2013, and I was in Puerto Rico as a freshman enjoying a trip with my team. I had a great week of practice before the trip, and I thought that I was going to play quite a bit in my first few games as a Lion. However, I was sadly mistaken when I only played a couple of minutes in only a couple games while we were over there.

While in Puerto Rico, we were sitting in the gym waiting to play because we arrived at the gym a couple of hours early, and there was already a game going. Our coach called us over and told us to pay attention to the game that was going on because we would be playing them later in the season. The team we were told we needed to watch was USC Aiken. They had made it to the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament the season before. They had their whole team back and would go on to the final four later that season.

I'm not sure why, but the whole time I was watching USC Aiken play I was getting very envious. I said to myself, "Am I not good enough to play for a major program?" I looked up the freshman guard on USC Aiken's roster during the game and began to do some research to see how good he was and how did he end up there, and not me. They played a fast-paced game and they were very exciting to watch.

Fast-forward a few weeks: it was close to Thanksgiving, and we are about to play USC Aiken in the Marion Bowman Activities Center. The night before the game I had a hard time sleeping because I was a tad bit nervous. I woke up on the day of the game and rolled over in my bed and looked at my phone. I had received a texted message from my uncle, who rarely texts me so I was shocked. It wasn't a good message at all. I opened up the text, and it said that my cousin had been shot and killed that night. I immediately called my mom to talk to her, and she told me it was true.

We had a team brunch that day at what used to be the Abbey across from campus. I headed to eat and just broke out in tears during the meal because I couldn't hold it in anymore. The coaches told me that I could go home and I didn't have to play in the game. I was contemplating not playing, but I thought about it, and I told myself that my cousin would want me to play for him.

The game rolled around, and I was emotional. I cried through the National Anthem with USC Aiken standing directly in front of us. When the game began, something unusual happened: Jarrel Harris, who was our starting point guard and best player, picked up two quick fouls at the beginning of the game. When that happened, the coach put me in. I played great that first half and led my team into halftime with the lead. We went on to win that game, and I let go some of that envy then because of what we just had done. I felt like we were a major program after that.

A little over a year and a half later, summer of 2015, I'm at work waiting for a conference call that Coach [Lance] Randall informed us about the night before. We never had conference calls, so I knew what he was about to tell us. He was getting ready to leave Saint Leo. After the call, I honestly said to myself that Saint Leo would never hire a black coach because the Sunshine State Conference has never had a black head coach while I've been in school. In fact, I have only played for one black coach in my entire life. Having a coach like Coach A makes it really easy to relate mentally, physically, and spiritually.

A few weeks later I got a picture sent to me that Saint Leo announced that they just hired Vince Alexander, the former head coach of USC Aiken, to be the new head coach for the Lions. I started doing a dance in my home immediately and was full of excitement. After that came a little fear, as I had to reach out to him after a couple of weeks after he was hired to talk. That threw me off, but nevertheless, I was still excited. I arrived on campus, and he said to me, "this will be your third year in the conference - why can't you be the best guard in the league?" He made me fall back in love with the game of basketball, and after that the rest is history. Following my junior season, I was named to the D2CCA and NABC All-South Region First Teams, as well as earning First Team All-Sunshine State Conference, and was a part of the SSC All-Tournament team, just to name a few of my honors. And it's all thanks to Coach A.

Entering my senior year, he is holding me accountable to be a leader on and off the court. Throughout the summer when I was here, he would call me at random times just to make sure I was doing what needed to be done. Under Coach A, I received pre-season All-American honors, and after I had got the news, he presented another challenge. He mentioned that while being picked for the individual honor is a very nice accomplishment, it still doesn't mean anything if our team loses. He constantly reminds me that the only thing that matters is if the D-II tournament selection committee picks our whole team at the end of the season.

Coach Alexander has completely changed my life around. Before he got to Saint Leo, I was uninterested in basketball at the time, and completely unfocused. He challenges me on and off the court to not only be the best basketball player I can be, but also the best man I can be. I have grown a great deal since he has been here, both on the court and in my spiritual life. He has been a mentor to me, and he has poured so much wisdom into my life. I am so lucky to be able to play for a coach like Vince Alexander.