Editors Note: The following feature is a look into the Eagle’s lockeroom at halftime on Jan. 25.
At the sound of the buzzer, the Eagles head off the court like a herd of buffalo, then move into a single-file line just before the film room door. The blue-walled room is decorated with various Emory logos, a basketball play studded white board and a hanging projector. Bullets of sweat fall from the players’ faces and arms as they drop into blue folding chairs.
“Jesus, how much are we up by?” a freshman player, Donald Avant, asks.He has a face that has never needed to feel the edge of a razor, but the chair on which he sits looks like it belongs in a dollhouse under his six foot six frame.
“It’s 34-19, man. Pay attention,” an even larger upperclassman yells from across the room.
A man wearing a grey suit and blue high-top basketball shoes marches into the room followed by three more men. The players immediately straighten up. He sits in a chair facing them. The florescent lights reflect off his shaven head as he leans forward and puts his elbows on his knees.
In college, Emory Head Coach Jason Zimmerman was a star player at Davidson. Now, he says he teaches his favorite subject on a hardwood court.
“Keep it up. I know we have a big lead, but don’t let up,” Zimmerman, who is well spoken, despite an intense street ball tone, tells his soldiers. “Let’s keep having fun.”
Although only five players can be on the court, the 15 seated Emory basketball players display tremendous depth. For practice scrimmages, the team is broken into a blue and a grey team. The blue team consists of the starting five, but the grey team is better than most of the teams the Eagles play, a captain, Mike Florin, says.
The team sits attentively. “We’re doing a great job, but we can do better,” Zimmerman says. “His teams don’t quit.”
Alex Foster, the Eagles’ leading scorer and a captain, sits quietly, remembering his freshman year. He was scared, a six-eight timid boy with long, Abraham Lincoln muscles.
Foster recalls his mentor, Jake Davis, who graduated last year and went down as one of the best players in the program’s history. A star even as a sophomore, Davis took Foster to the gym every day. Foster had trembled at the thought of getting a two-minute chance to show his talents in a game. He didn’t even think Zimmerman believed in him.
Now, Davis’s words echo in Foster’s ears: “You could be the best player on this team.”
With the Eagles lead, Foster knows he’ll be leaving the game soon and that his role as a captain has shifted. Zimmerman gives final warnings against getting comfortable. “Let’s break it down.”
Foster reaches out his hand and pulls Avant to his feet. The two double high five twice, switching their hands, leap into one another with their chests puffed out and outstretch their arms like Eagles — their secret handshake. With 10 minutes on the clock, Avant will leave the bench and put up eight, the most from an Eagle in the second half.
The team crowds the middle of the room. “Eagles on three,” a player yells from their center. “One, two, three.” A thunderstorm seems to shake the room with the voices of 15 enormous student-athletes. “Eagles.”
— By Zak Hudak, Sports Editor