“Those towel boys better get busy and start earning their keep!”
Those words scrolled by on my Twitter timeline last season during one of UK’s basketball games. When I read that tweet, two things occurred to me. One, I did not know everything a student manager did. Two, I knew they did far more than simply supply towels to players. So what exactly do the student managers do? A recent conversation with 2nd-year manager Hank Curtis provided the answer to that question.
A typical day for Curtis starts with classes in the morning and then dropping by the Joe Craft Center around midday. If any supply shipments have arrived, those must be verified for accuracy and inventory updated. After that, refrigerators are stocked and coolers are filled in preparation for the day’s practice. As practice time draws near, the managers must set out all the equipment and gear that will be used, including lots of tape and multiple pairs of shoes for each player.
Curtis, a 21-year old Franklin, Tennessee native emphasizes that academics must come first. This requires cooperation and communication between the 8 full-time managers. With a variety of class schedules, the managers cover the various duties at different times. This can require a bit of a juggling act and Curtis said he was glad he had spent a couple of years just adjusting to college academics before adding student manager duties to his daily routine.
Game days can be more hectic as all of the same jobs must be completed plus they must all be on hand several hours before tip-off to make sure everything is ready for the players. They assist the team in getting ready for the game by making sure everyone gets taped up appropriately and again, multiple pairs of shoes are at the ready (you never know when a player is going to “blow a tire”). After the players are prepped, the managers then head to the court and help corral the balls used during warmups. Then during the game, they actually do provide towels and drinks to the players, which is the most visible thing for fans.
Road games aren’t any easier. While traveling to all the different cities and venues is definitely fun, Curtis says the logistics can be challenging. Besides the normal work of having all equipment readied, gear set out, and coolers filled, they have to keep tabs on everything be it on buses or planes and to be able to account for all equipment when the team returns home. Add to that keeping tabs on the players and you have more than enough work to keep all 8 managers busy. Their ultimate goal is to make everything feel like home for the basketball team.
While Curtis acknowledges the sometimes heavy workload that comes with being a student manager, he also points out there are many advantages. Besides having the best seats in the house when the most storied college basketball program takes the court, he and the other managers have developed a family-like bond with one another and with the team. “There’s always something to be done, so we just have to be alert, know the schedule, stand tall, and work hard,” says Curtis. “Being around the guys is just like family.”
There are other perks as well. For example, Curtis notes the priceless experience of spending time with Coach Calipari and his staff. “You get exposure and information, not just to the game of basketball but also in learning how to be a professional. You learn communication and responsibility.” For an Integrated Strategic Communications and Human Communications major, those skills are invaluable.
Of course, the managers can be fans as well. For Curtis, one of his fondest game memories was last year’s matchup against UNC in the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas. “Watching Malik Monk drop 47 points and pretty much carry the team was something I won’t forget.”
Mention should be made that Curtis doesn’t want this story to be about him. He wants everyone to know that all the managers work just as hard as he does and they all share the same goals for helping the basketball team any way they can. What Hank wants the fans to do is “Look at the resume and the entire body of work by the team. We work hard behind the scenes to help things roll smoothly. It’s a challenge but it’s fun.”
So the next time you see the “towel boys” on the court, just remember the countless hours that were spent before they ever picked up the first towel. And don’t forget the team’s success is made easier by all the hard work of the student managers, the real unsung heroes of Kentucky Basketball.
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