EAST LANSING — There comes a time in every young, aspiring athletes life when the realization that you aren’t quite good enough to make it at the next level kicks in.
It’s a dreadful recognition that 99.9 percent of us that can’t shoot or throw a ball like we thought go through at some point. It punches you in the soul and strangles your emotions because you put so much time and effort into a game that eventually vanishes, competitively, in a matter of seconds.
However, while that realization may be one of the earliest internal battles that someone goes through in life, it’s a blessing in disguise. It’s a blessing because it gives you an opportunity to figure out what it is you want to do in life.
As one door shuts, another one opens.
Growing up in Shelby Twp., Mich., Andrew Henk, a senior at Michigan State University, was smart enough to figure out which door he wanted to open before the door officially closed on his high school basketball career.
“I grew up a Michigan State fan and I played basketball in high school,” Henk said. “I knew that I could never play at the college level but I wanted to work for the Spartan program one way or another.”
So, with his eyes set on heading to East Lansing after finishing high school, Henk applied to Michigan State in hopes of finding a way to be part of one of college basketball’s most prestigious programs.
“Coming in as a freshman I wanted to be a manager for the men’s basketball team,” Henk said. “Unfortunately, when I went to the informational meeting the first week of school, so did about 35 other students. I didn’t get the job that year, but I tried out again the following year. As a sophomore, I was told I was more than qualified for the position but they just didn’t have a spot for me.”
Henk, a journalism major, knew that he was close to reaching one his lifelong dreams of becoming apart of the MSU basketball program, but he used several resources provided to him by MSU to ensure that he wouldn’t be denied as an upperclassmen when he went to interview the following year.
“I served as an assistant coach for East Lansing’s varsity boy’s team during the 2011-12 season under head coach Steve Finamore — we finished the season 15-6,” Henk said. “After that, I covered Michigan State football for isportweb.com and also worked at the Lansing State Journal. The next fall, I had a full resume and a lot of experience, and confidence, going into that interview.”
Eventually, the interview came and went, and Henk found himself apart of the Spartans’ program. And for someone that went from the outside looking in as a reporter, Henk admitted that the transition to being on the inside looking out was an experience in itself.
“As a reporter, your job is find out all the information and report it — be an insider,” Henk said. “As a manager, I was part of a team and program. I learned so much about basketball, the coaching staff, the players, and what actually goes on behind the scenes of a collegiate basketball program. And since I was part of a team, I could no longer be a reporter. And I was perfectly fine with that.”
In his two seasons as manger, Henk was there for the entire ride as the Spartans tried to claim their first national championship since 2000. He played a major role in the work that went on behind the scenes that people don’t get to hear about or see.
“I don’t think people really know what basketball managers actually do,” Henk said. “When people think of a basketball manager they think of water, towels, and rebounding. While we do all of those things, we also cut up endless amounts of film and we help each staff member with their daily jobs such as the trainer, the strength coach, the equipment manager, the video coordinator, the director of operations, the secretary, and all the coaches as well. We are there to do all the dirty work in order to make sure that the day-to-day operations of the program are completed.”
And while he didn’t get paid with a check like the coaches he worked side by side with or have his tuition covered like the players he attempted to help make better each day, he was held to the same standards on and off the floor.
“My social life really diminished,” Henk said. “I had all early classes, and right from there would go straight to the Breslin for the next eight hours (roughly). I would cut up film of our opponents and of our own players. We would set up and clean up practice as well as be on the floor in various drills rebounding, passing, or providing energy.”
However, despite the grueling hours that Henk and the other managers put in on a daily basis, they still found time to enjoy themselves throughout the lengthy season.
“Us managers would usually have our own fun as we would play pick-up games for about an hour or two,” Henk said. “Sometimes, coach (Dwayne) Stephens and coach (Dane) Fife would join in as well former players Travis Walton and Kelvin Torbert — who both live in the area and are in the offices almost everyday.
“Being around these guys 40-50 hours per week, I started to gain relationships not only with the managers but also with the players and coaches that will last throughout my lifetime.”
Also, not only did Henk get to develop friendships with the guys that represented the program that he had hoped to be a member of since a teenager, but he grew a new appreciation for them as well.
“It’s incredible seeing how these athletes handle their schedule,” Henk said. “They not only have class and practice, but they also have appointments with tutors, weight-lifting sessions, film sessions (both team and individually), and then they come back in later at night to get more shots up and watch more film. Oh yeah, and they have to sleep too. It’s truly amazing how hard these guys work.”
Michigan State’s season recently came to an end as they lost to the Elite Eight against UConn, and just like senior players Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, Henk had to appreciate all that he’s been through in his time as a member of the Spartans’ program and not focus on what he didn’t get to do.
With a heap of accomplishments at his disposal in just two years, Henk’s best memories came from a season that some deemed as “disappointing.”
“Winning the Big Ten tournament was an awesome experience,” he said. “Being able to celebrate on the court after the championship game, putting on the championship hat, and cutting down a piece of the net was something I will never forget.
“As soon as that was over, video coordinator Brett Ferguson and some of the managers headed back to East Lansing to get some video work done for the NCAA tournament. We were in the office until 4:30 a.m., cutting up film of Delaware, Cincinnati and Harvard so that the coaches could start watching film as soon as they got into the office on Monday morning. And I think that’s the best experience. Being able to contribute so much to one of the best basketball programs in the nation.”