Between film, practice, rehabilitation and traveling, off days are rare for the men’s basketball team. This holds true especially for Chris Blakeley and Luis Lopez.
Blakeley and Lopez, both 23 years old, have been graduate assistants for head coach Grant McCasland’s team since 2017. Well before regular season games or team practices, the two were hard at work helping the Mean Green fulfill their potential as a team.
“I have an emotionally charged love for basketball, it’s history and the many great people I have met and will continue to meet through the game,” Blakeley said. “It’s those relationships I cherish.”
Blakeley attended Abilene Christian College and Lopez attended Oklahoma Christian University for their undergraduate degrees. Both have aspirations to be a coach for their own team, whether it be at the collegiate level or in Blakeley’s case, the NBA.
The path to becoming a head coach requires prior experience as an assistant and, before that, involvement in a school or organization’s coaching structure to help understand the ins and outs.
As for being an assistant coach, they both show the knowledge required to already fill that role for a smaller school. However, like most jobs, they have to put in their time and work their way up.
That trek up the ladder can begin with being a graduate assistant. During most of the day, players and coaches can find Blakeley and Lopez in the gym or the locker room. They could be performing jobs as important as being the scout team for starters during practice to menial tasks like checking player’s emails or picking up lunch.
“I love the game of basketball,” Lopez said. “I love everything that is involved in making a program successful. Whatever my role is within a program, I will do my best to excel.”
A 6 a.m. wake up call starts the day for the two. They begin with workouts, not for the team, but for themselves, before preparing to assist the players in their workouts.
By 7:30 a.m., they have showered, eaten whatever breakfast they can find and gotten to work.
Most days, work starts with preparing for 9 a.m. practice. Before the players and coaches enter The Super Pit, Blakeley and Lopez have gone over film and set up the court so all involved can step right in to a ready gym.
Practice time is the most consistent part of their daily routine. After laying the foundation for drills and scrimmages, they pick up a whistle and turn into referees.
When it comes time to split up the guards and big men, Lopez takes the guards and Blakeley the bigs. The two have worked out a symbiotic, friendly system with the players after months and countless hours working together.
Practice wraps up around 11:30 a.m. so players can get to class in the afternoon, but prior to a complete dismissal, an optional post-practice shootaround has become a popular event. If there’s one word to describe what they do during that time, they use “rebounder.”
Shootarounds before and after practice are always rebounded by a mixture of assistant coaches of graduate assistants, but these two are always there, making sure players have somebody collecting their makes and misses.
At noon, the two grab lunch and work on breaking down film, scouting the upcoming opponents and other forms of game preparation.
From that time until they sleep, they are mostly on their own. The coaching staff entrusts them to their “homework” such as reviewing game plans– not to mention the actual homework they have from their Monday and Wednesday night classes for their master’s degree.
Blakeley and Lopez admit it is a lot of work, and they are surrounded by basketball seemingly all day, but it is exactly where they want to be.
“Sometimes you just have a feeling inside of you that knows this was what you were born to do,” Blakeley said. “It’s that feeling of fulfilling your purpose that ultimately fuels me daily and gets me out of bed each morning, ready to do what I was created to do.”