not going to be easy

By Rubin Jones

This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

“Everything you want in your life is on the other side of hard.”

It’s one of my favorite quotes, and I hear it constantly throughout the course of the season from Coach Hodge.

Failure, setbacks, and obstacles are all a part of life. You can either let them define you, or you can overcome them to shape you into the person you are today.

Before I got to UNT, to be completely honest with you, I wouldn’t have understood that message like I do now.

I’m not saying life’s always come easy to me, but it wasn’t until I got to UNT where I experienced the lowest of lows in my life and seriously began to question my future in a sport I’ve loved my entire life.

I understand this may sound strange from someone who became the UNT basketball program’s all-time winningest player earlier this season, but don’t let those wins fool you.

For all the wins and success I’ve been able to achieve, I’ve had more than my share of struggles and adversity that have changed my mindset in all the best ways.

My journey to becoming the winningest player in program history hasn’t been easy, and my life and basketball career changed forever when I realized that I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Realizing my potential

I’ve always been ultra-competitive, even dating back to my days in elementary school.

A story I always love telling is when I was playing basketball one day at recess when I was in the second grade.

I remember it like it was yesterday.

It was me against the whole class.

For real, I was on a team all by myself.

Given my competitive nature, I wasn’t going to back down, right? I was willing to take on the entire school if that’s what it took.

But I was so mad because I was getting swarmed and hit like crazy, and the teacher wasn’t doing anything.

I couldn’t get a foul call to save my life!

I stormed into my house after school and was complaining to my brother about how unfairly I was treated and he stopped me mid-sentence.

He said, “Bro, it’s because you’re way better than everyone else. It wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the kids if they treated you like them.”

That’s kind of when I realized I wasn’t like the other kids playing basketball. I had a skillset that made me different, but I also knew I had to continue to put in the work.

I did just that and wound up being recruited by Matty B (Matt Braeuer) at UNT, who was good friends with my AAU coach.

What I loved about Matty B was that he was straightforward and honest. There was a true family vibe with him and the rest of the coaching staff.

So when I committed to play basketball at UNT, I knew I could trust Matty B and the rest of the coaches and that they’d take care of me and elevate me to my highest potential.

Watching from the sidelines

My freshman year started out perfectly. Looking back, maybe it was too perfect because I came crashing down in the worst way.

In the last game of the regular season, I pulled my hamstring and was done for the rest of the year.

I was devastated because we had such an amazing year as a team. Not only did we win the conference tournament and punch our ticket to the NCAA Tournament, we upset Purdue in overtime and moved on to the second round.

And I wasn’t able to be a part of it.

That was an extremely difficult time for me in so many different ways. Obviously, I was thrilled for the guys and the success we had, but it almost felt like I wasn’t even on the team, you know?

I was on crutches – I couldn’t even walk, so I couldn’t be a part of the water celebrations or jumping up and down in the locker room in any capacity.

As a freshman, just a young kid, that was a challenging period for me, but that’s why UNT has been such a blessing in my life because I had a great support system.

I grew very close to Coach Hodge, who was an assistant coach at the time. He helped me immensely as I began to heal from the physical and mental toll that injury took on me.

What I didn’t know at the time was that the worst was yet to come.

I stormed into my house after school and was complaining to my brother about how unfairly I was treated and he stopped me mid-sentence. He said, “Bro, it’s because you’re way better than everyone else. It wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the kids if they treated you like them.” That’s kind of when I realized I wasn’t like the other kids playing basketball. I had a skillset that made me different, but I also knew I had to continue to put in the work.

A limitless mentality

In the summer after my sophomore season, I received word that I needed surgery on my left meniscus that would sideline me for the next three or four months.

My heart sank like you wouldn’t believe.

After I got the surgery, I wasn’t even thinking about basketball at that point because I was just trying to build enough strength to recover and walk again.

When athletes get injured, I don’t feel like it’s discussed nearly enough how much of a toll it takes on our mental health. With scholarships and NIL deals, our bodies are essentially our means of living. When I wasn’t even strong enough to walk or bend my knees, my mind went to some pretty dark places about my future and the value I bring to the world.

But, man, I’m telling you, and this is for any athlete that is going through an extensive injury. If you can push through those dark moments and put your head down and grind through rehab, it’s a beautiful thing coming out on the other side.

Once I overcame that injury and got back to 100%, and could play ball again, I felt like I could achieve anything.

My mindset shifted completely.

Whatever came my way, I knew I could get through it and come out on top because I’ve done it before.

From that day forward, I firmly believed that anything was possible.

Prepared for life’s challenges

I injured my hamstring again in early January this season, and don’t get me wrong, being injured again sucked, but I reacted to it differently than any other injury I’ve experienced before.

I didn’t sulk or feel sorry for myself; I just looked forward to healing up and getting back on the court as soon as I was able to.

It definitely helped that this injury wasn’t nearly as severe.

I could still walk and everything, but as I mentioned before, my mindset had changed.

The struggles that I faced with surgery and those dark moments where I questioned when I’d be able to walk again and if I’d ever be able to play basketball again gave me perspective.

When I experience adversity and problems in my everyday life, I just know things can always be worse than what they are.

I feel grateful and blessed for all the times I’ve been knocked down because I know now that I’m a stronger and better person for it.

Like Coach Hodge says, everything we want in this life is there for the taking as long as we’re willing to put in the work and overcome challenges along the way.

For the rest of my basketball career and beyond, I feel prepared for whatever life has in store for me throughout my journey.

It’s not going to be easy, but something I learned along the way is that nothing worth pursuing ever is.