One Saturday morning in September, Dave Fils-Aime ’10 was late for his first Yale men’s basketball practice of the year. He worried what the coaches would think as he walked into Payne Whitney Gymnasium tardy for the 8 a.m. start.
“I wasn’t used to waking up that early on Saturdays,” he said laughing.
But the coaches simply gave him his assignments and practice went on — with Fils-Aime keeping stats and helping with drills.
Fils-Aime isn’t a player on the team. Rather, he is one of the many undergraduates who aid coaching staffs in Yale Athletics under various titles — Fils-Aime’s being “student director of basketball operations.” Other Yale teams with similar positions filled by students include men’s soccer and football, which has a handful of students aid the coaching staff in various capacities.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Men’s basketball head coach James Jones has had the assistance of at least one undergraduate each season during his 10 years at Yale. And for the two seasons prior to the 2008-’09 campaign, Brandon Rose ’09 was the one serving the roles of student director of basketball operations and student manager. But Rose’s ultimate goal was to earn a spot on the roster.
Upon arriving in New Haven his freshman year, Rose tried to make the squad as a walk-on but was unsuccessful. He then asked Jones if he could help out in any capacity and was given the position of student manager, while Sung Kim ’07 served the team’s student assistant coach that year. When Kim graduated, Rose assumed the vacant role as well and did both for two seasons.
At the beginning of this academic year, Rose trained with the Bulldogs — like he had the past couple years — when Jones called him into his office one day to inform him he would be given a jersey his senior year.
“For two years, he gave his self; he was selfless,” Jones said. “He was deserving of it. I think it was something he wanted and was in the back of his mind and never really said anything about it. I just thought it was the right thing to do.”
Rose’s transition from manager to player is a rarity at Yale.
“Going through this whole thing taught me a lot,” Rose said. “It was very difficult but enjoyable and rewarding at the end. I had to push myself.”
Jones has seen each student assistant welcomed by the players with open arms — so much so that Josh Greenberg ’06, a student manager at one point, vaulted to captain of the 2005-’06 team after being given a spot on the team his sophomore year.
“One thing about the guys that come to this institution, is that they are great people,” the coach said. “They have always been welcoming to student managers and have made them feel like they were a part of the team.”
Fils-Aime was simply looking for a job at the beginning of the school year when he received an e-mail regarding the “student director of operations” position. Without knowing exactly what the job would entail, he quickly applied; and from there, his life at Yale changed dramatically.
The junior’s tasks can be tedious and vary according to the time of the year; and with no student manager for the team, he took up both roles. Prior to the men’s basketball season opener in October, Fils-Aime attended all practices, ready to assist in any capacity — from filming the sessions to setting up drills to keeping various stats for the coaching staff. He also found time to go into the coach’s office to help with recruiting by calling high schools and asking for potential recruits’ transcripts.
During the season, Fils-Aime filmed all the games — home and away — and attended the team’s practices during the week, which numbered three or four a week. With so many practices and games, including long road trips and winter break with the team, he spent a large amount of time with the team.
“If the games are on the road on the weekend, that’s all you’re doing,” he said. “There’s no time for anything else. You might have a couple hours here and there to do some schoolwork, but that’s it. So it’s a pretty big part of your life.”
When the season ended, the Miami native began helping graduating seniors on the team with highlight tapes as they hope to impress overseas professional teams. Since the season ended the first week of March, he has again helped the coaching staff in the recruiting process.
Fils-Aime, who never played organized basketball and only began playing for leisure the summer prior to his freshman year, had a smooth transition to his position. He roomed with guard and newly elected captain Alex Zampier ’10 his first two years at Yale in Timothy Dwight College and through him became friends with several members of the team. Once aboard, manager-turned-player Rose was there if Fils-Aime had any questions.
“That’s my dude,” Fils-Aime said. “We’ve been real close and he did this for a while so he’s mastered it. If I have any problems I just give him a call and he helps me out.”
FROM THE FIELD TO THE SIDELINES
But many student assistants/managers go in the opposite direction — from the playing field to the sidelines. That was the case for Isaiah DeLeon-Mares ’10. The St. Louis native came to Yale in 2006 as a heralded cornerback for the football team and made his varsity debut against Columbia during his freshman season. But a continuing problem with concussions ultimately ended his playing career. Not wanting to completely move on from the sport he loves, DeLeon-Mares asked the coaching staff if there was any way he could stay involved. He was given a spot as a student assistant.
In the 2008 season, DeLeon-Mares was one of four student assistant coaches on the roster. The team also listed six student managers on its official roster, two more than the traditional number of four, according to former head football coach Jack Siedlecki.
“They start out in T-shirts and shorts 30 feet up in the film tower in August and finish in November with as many layers as possible,” Siedlecki said. “I have often said I don’t think that I would go up in that tower in November with the wind blowing and the temperature in the 20s. They have been unbelievably loyal over the years.”
During season, DeLeon-Mares filmed games from the booth alongside members of the coaching staff and kept statistics on game days. On Mondays he would help break down game film with coaches, and from Tuesday through Thursday he would attend practice and help out the younger players in the secondary.
According to DeLeon-Mares, being around the team constantly has helped him in his transition to life without playing football. He’s found it to be a great experience and is considering coaching in the future.
The same can be said for Casey Logan ’10, who after suffering a career-ending back injury in the spring of 2008, has embraced his less formal role as student manager for the men’s soccer team. Logan helps the coaching staff with practice, often setting up drills and rounding up balls.
“[Being a student manager] is a lot different, but I feel that a lot of guys respected me for taking as much as four hours out of my day and coming out to help,” Logan said. “I definitely felt a part of the team and still do in the offseason.”
But not everyone who takes a similar position is happy with it. Gavin Blades ’09 served as a student manager for the men’s soccer team after suffering a life-threatening injury in a snowboarding accident in 2006 but no longer serves in the role of student assistant coach. He is still close friends with several players on the team, however.
Simply put, Blades said the volunteer position was not fun during the offseason.
Logan and DeLeon-Mares also worked on a volunteer basis, while Fils-Aime is paid — but not for all of his time.
Yale does not allow students to work more than 19 hours per week, but Fils-Aime goes well north of that mark. Fils-Aime is paid for just 15 hours per week, although he has spent as much as 40 hours of his time working for the basketball team.
Despite that, most find the experience gratifying, memorable, and rewarding.
“It’s one of the best experiences I’ve had since I’ve been at Yale, and I’d definitely do it over,” Fils-Aime said.
DeLeon-Mares said he feels the same way.
“I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything,” DeLeon-Mares said. “I would love to be on the field, but things happen, and I’m glad that I’ve been able to help out and am looking forward to next season.”