Learning from the Bench

GW student goes from basketball team manager to player.

Jeff Alston with basketball players
February 08, 2010

By Jennifer Price

Jeff Alston didn’t play varsity basketball in high school.

And for three years he created scouting reports, studied film and reserved hotel rooms as the manager of GW men's basketball team.

But then the unimaginable happened: he joined the team.

Mr. Alston, who aspires to be the youngest head coach in Division 1 basketball, became the team’s manager during his freshman year at GW in 2005.

“I’ve always known I wanted to coach basketball, and I wanted to learn as much as I could while I was in college,” says Mr. Alston, who is enrolled in GW’s business administration five-year program. He will receive both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in May with a concentration in sport management.

Mr. Alston always had a love for basketball. He grew up in Silver Springs, Md. playing in youth basketball leagues before joining the junior varsity squad at Our Lady of Good Council High School. When he wasn’t getting a lot of playing time, he decided to focus on football.

But when he arrived at GW, he wanted to be involved in basketball again, and he thought becoming the team’s manager was the best way to do that.

“School is great, and I really do look forward to going to class. But I view working with the basketball team as my true college experience,” he says.

As manager, Mr. Alston was responsible for researching opponents, analyzing game films and making all travel arrangements for the team. But what he did most of was study the coaches.

“I took notes on how they interacted with players, how they dealt with certain situations and how they set up plays,” says Mr. Alston, who has a notebook dedicated to becoming a head coach. “I picked the coaches’ brains all the time.”

In addition to managing the team, Mr. Alston created the university’s club basketball team, which is more competitive than intramural basketball.

But after three years as manager, Mr. Alston wanted more.

“I really wanted to be a part of the team, and I thought being on a college team would give me a lot more creditability when I became a coach,” he says.

In the spring of 2008, Mr. Alston attended several open gyms, where he was able to prove he deserved a spot on the team, and in the fall, he was given a GW No. 4 jersey and joined as a walk-on.

“I took a picture the first time I put my jersey on,” says Mr. Alston. “And seeing your face in the media guide is so surreal.”

He tried to prepare himself as much as possible by playing in summer leagues and pick-up games in the park, but his first practice was still a rude awakening.

“I was in shape, but I wasn’t prepared for the game speed. Nothing can compare to playing with 12 other Division 1 basketball players,” says Mr. Alston, who at 5’9 is the shortest player on GW’s team. “I was like a deer in the headlights the first couple of practices.”

While it was an adjustment for Mr. Alston, it was an even bigger change for Coach Karl Hobbs.

“It was pretty heart wrenching for me. Jeff went from being my favorite nephew to where I have to get on him all the time,” says Coach Hobbs.

As manager, Mr. Alston would often eat lunch with the coaches and hang out in their offices. That had to change when Mr. Alston became a player.

“The first time Coach Hobbs yelled at me during practice, it kind of scared me,” says Mr. Alston. “He had never yelled at me before as manager.”

When Mr. Alston joined the team as a point guard, he knew he wouldn’t be getting much playing time, but he didn’t mind because he just wanted to be able to be a part of it. Last season, he only played three minutes and didn’t score any points. This season, he’s played in two games but not scored any points.

“I know I’m a walk-on. I know my role, but I really enjoy practice because practice is where I get all the knowledge I could have ever imagined,” he says.

This season will be Mr. Alston’s last as he will graduate with his master’s in May. He’s already started sending his resume out to universities across the country in the hopes that he can get hired as a director of basketball operations.

“He has the right temperament to coach, the ability to teach and great leadership qualities,” says Coach Hobbs.

Mr. Alston’s dream is to eventually become a head coach at a Division 1 university.

“I will coach wherever, and I’ll give it all I have,” says Mr. Alston.