Amazing how something as deflating as an injury can change a basketball man's life--and those around him--for the better.
L.J. Goolsby was a promising college player in the 1990s, first at Ole Miss and later at Wichita State. He dreamed big, but it came crashing down after multiple knee injuries wrecked his career. Physically defeated, he settled down and took a job in Kansas City in pharmaceutical sales.
Something about those knee injuries, though, kept him from completely turning his back on basketball. Goolsby didn't want to go out like that. And he found his way back into the game when a younger cousin moved to the Kansas City area and signed up for AAU basketball.
"The guy that was coaching, him and I knew of each other," Goolsby said. "He asked if I could get involved."
Since then, L.J. Goolsby has become an inspirational story in the summer basketball circuit--a coach who does things right, and won't have it any other way.
Now the head coach of Kansas City Pump N Run, Goolsby's teams traditionally reflect fundamental basketball at its finest. They play defense. They box out. They set screens. They rarely get into the 1-on-1, me-first basketball that's become the reputation of summer hoops, fair or not.
Said Tom Keegan, columnist for the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World: "His teams play as if they practice together daily. Short on flash and long on taking good shots."
Why the refreshing approach to the laid-back summer season?
"We really want to have kids understand that you have to play basketball the right way," Goolsby said. "If you do that, it's going to be easier to be recruited by college coaches."
Goolsby sees that as his purpose in basketball. He wants to bring teenagers under his wing, develop them as players and people, and then show them off to college coaches across the country in major tournaments.
Beyond that, it's up to the players.
"I'm never going to tell them where to go (to college)," Goolsby said. "That's important for the kids and parents to make their own decisions. I know there are some situations where coaches are a lot more hands-on. We're pretty hands-off in that regard.
"Our responsibility is to get them to the venue to showcase their skills. Then we'll sit in the background and let them make their own decisions."
In his 10-plus years as a summer coach, Goolsby has helped dozens of athletes to Division I scholarships, including current college players Brady Morningstar (Kansas), Casey Crawford (Colorado), Denver Holmes (Evansville), Travis Releford (Kansas), Dominique Morrison (Oral Roberts), Michael Dixon (Missouri) and Tyrel Reed (Kansas). Another, Trevor Releford, has signed with Alabama for the 2010-11 season.
All of them were prepared for the college game partly through Goolsby's mentoring. He soaked in the styles of his own college coaches--Mississippi's Rob Evans and Wichita State's Randy Smithson--and applied it to his summer team's preparation. As a result, KC Pump N Run is high on discipline and structure, and its players are wired to transition smoothly to the next level.
"We represent ourselves well on the court, play the game really hard, offensively get up and down the floor," Goolsby said. "We have fun, but we want them to have some structure like it's going to be when they move on to college."
The results have been hard to argue with. KC Pump N Run's 17-U squad has won three of the last four Jayhawk Invitational tournaments, won the Sabes Invitational in 2009 and typically fare well in the adidas super 64 in Las Vegas every July.
Despite the success, Goolsby has no aspirations of making coaching a full-time job. He's a family man with a good career in Kansas City. He views basketball as a part-time passion for him and his assistants.
"It's all volunteer, it's nothing we make money off of," Goolsby said. "We're giving back. We're former players and we want kids to have that same opportunity."
It's a time-consuming hobby, for sure. But Goolsby sees it as an incredibly rewarding one--even more so because he's sticking to his beliefs when building his program.
"When you look and see kids that are able to move on to bigger and better things, you feel really good that you had an opportunity to help a little bit," Goolsby said. "For me, having injuries throughout my career and having basketball cut short, it's a great way to be around it and to make kids understand that, hey, one day the ball will stop bouncing and you've got to have other things besides basketball.
"We try to discuss that with them that basketball is fun, enjoy it while it lasts, but you're not going to be able to do it for too much longer. Take full advantage while you're able to do it."