The gold dome of the Ferrell Center sits muted against the black backdrop of the early 6 AM morning. A Toyota Corolla pulls up and parks outside the ticket office, its headlights reflecting off of the old track offices. The man driving steps out his car and walks quietly up to the side door most fans overlook on game day. He stops outside and enters a code, “The doors don’t open to the public until 8,” he says. The locks shift and he is greeted on both sides by almost life-size murals of great moments in Baylor Basketball history, both men’s and womens. Before he makes it to the 2013 NIT Championship photo, he turns right down a side staircase and pops out next to the weight room downstairs.
Philip Shelley, a junior from San Antonio, TX, is heading to the men’s basketball locker room. He walks across the main court and into the tunnel fans recognize from the team introductions. A large screen TV showing clips of recent games sits on top of commemorative balls highlighting the team’s postseason success behind a sheet of glass. He stops to enter his code again, pulls open the door, and goes to work.
“I’m in charge of making sure the laundry is done everyday for practice and games,” Shelley says as he rolls a grey laundry bin into the equipment room. Each day before practice, Shelley places a bag of gear on each player’s chair with all of the equipment they might need for the day. At the end of the day, the players return to the locker room and toss those bags into the bin. Shelley takes out a gaggle of keys and opens the laundry room, where three industrial size washers and two dryers sit. He moves a load from one to the other and makes sure to clean the lint collector before starting the dryer and says laughing, “This thing caught on fire once a couple of years ago. Nothing serious.”
Shelley tosses in the next round of bags, goes to the cubbies hanging outside the room, and collects a second set to give to the players for the day. He tosses the last set of gear from across the room onto newly crowned Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year Taurean Prince’s chair, slams the gear door to make sure it locks, and heads out to class.
Shelley, the Head Equipment Manager for Baylor Men’s Basketball, spends his typical morning in such a fashion. By the time the 8 AM round of classes begins for most Baylor students, he has already started a job most fans of the program do not even know exists. Then, while the typical student returns to his dorm room or her apartment, Shelley heads back to the Ferrell for practice.
“As Head Manager, I am in charge of making sure the other managers keep the practice gym in order and that they set up the gym for practice everyday,” he says. Overall, Baylor Men’s Basketball employs 10 to 12 undergraduate managers, with four to six working every practice.
Stationed around the court, the managers are noticeable for the white towels that sit draped across the shoulders, ready to be used when one of the players falls or, in the case of fan favorite Rico Gathers, stands in one spot too long.
“Coach Drew makes sure that one of us always follows Rico around during practice,” a second year manager Zach Amundson says. “He’s known for sweating a lot.”
Amundson, a sophomore from Austin, TX, knew he wanted to work for the team before he even set foot on campus. Prior to the start of his freshman year, Amundson contacted the team staff and set up a meeting with the then Head Manager to discuss working with the team. He got the job and so impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic that he became the rare underclassmen to travel with the squad on road games and sit on the bench.
Zach Amundson (left) and Philip Shelley (right) behind the bench during pregame introductions.
For Shelley and Amundson, road games are a different monster than a typical practice day. “I have to pack for all of the road trips and sometimes have to bring four or five giant bags with us just for the practice gear and uniforms alone,” Shelley explains. On the road, the two undergraduate managers work closely with the team trainer David Chandler (DC) in making sure that every player has what he needs, is on time for each practice, and is on the bus to head to the game. Once at the arena, Shelley heads down to the court to help the guys warm up, while Amundson stays behind to set up the large Beats speaker the team purchased to play music before each game.
“My main responsibility on game day is all of our music for home and away games. I edit the music to be clean and play it on game days,” Amundson says, pointing out Scott Drew’s policy of only playing music without swearing. Once he is finished as the DJ, Amundson joins Shelley on the court and helps Assistant Coach Jerome Tang run pregame drills.
Depending on the arena, even the managers are met with a smattering of boos when they run out onto the court.
“There are a lot of great venues in the Big 12,” Shelley says. “But, really, there is no road game atmosphere like Kansas. That place is crazy. Kansas definitely lives up to the hype. But when you get that road win in a hostile environment it’s even better, like when we beat Iowa State,” he laughs.
Home games, meanwhile, are somewhat less of a stress-inducing atmosphere.
“On a typical home game day, I come in an hour before shoot around to put out the bags and towels. Then we have shoot around, scout the team, and eat a game day meal as a team,” Shelley explains. Before every home game Waco-favorite George’s caters for the entire staff, but Strength Coach Charlie Melton and Trainer DC make sure the menu stays healthy. “I wish we could get chicken fried steak, but the food is still really good,” Shelley says, amused.
About two hours before the game starts, Amundson arrives at the Ferrell and begins rebounding for the players. Former Baylor star Brady Heslip had a set routine before each game that he was adamant on completing, so Amundson knows how important this time is for the guys.
The real joy for Amundson and Shelley both, though, is sitting on the bench behind the coaching staff. “There is nothing like it. You get one of the best seats in the house and get to help the coaching staff at the same time,” Amundson says.
This season Shelley sits between Amundson and another familiar face, Isaiah Austin, who returned to school after being forced to retire with Marfan’s Syndrome. “It’s a lot of fun watching the game with Isaiah,” says Shelley. “We were already good friends while he was here as a player, but now we get to go crazy together over dunks and when we hit big shots. Z[eke] and I get stoked during games.”
Philip Shelley stands behind the bench and celebrates a Taurean Prince three-point make.
This relationship with the players is one of the best parts of the job, according to Shelley and Amundson.
“My relationship with the players is great,” Amundson says. “We have a special bond at work and I love seeing these guys succeed and get better. It’s always great to see players that I’ve worked with, like Cory Jefferson, succeed in the NBA and pros.”
The clock hits zero and the buzzer rings throughout the arena. While the players and coaches get to take a moment celebrate the victory, Amundson and Shelley continue to work. After the handshake line ends, Shelley runs over to the head official to retrieve the game ball and the duo head back to the locker room. Coach Drew debriefs the team, gives out the next set of schedules, and the players turn in their uniforms to Shelley, so that he can get them ready for the next game.
“We have a quick turnaround time, especially during conference season. We’ll play a home game on Saturday night, wake up early Sunday morning and travel to Oklahoma State or somewhere for a Monday night game. So I have to make sure that all of the uniforms are ready no matter what is next on the schedule,” he says.
Once the Ferrell Center has emptied of fans and most of the players have gone home, Amundson and Shelley head up to the basketball offices to see if the coaches need anything else before taking off. While to some it may seem like these two are seeking out more work after a day that can already reach 18 hours with classes, they are happy to do it, thanks to their bond with the coaching staff.
“The relationship with the coaches is definitely a mentor type of relationship,” Shelley explains. “They help teach us things that we want to learn more about and let us be involved in film breakdown, scouting reports, and different things like that.”
“My relationship with the coaches could not be paralleled,” Amundson says. “They truly care about me and my aspirations and work with me daily to reach my goals.”
The two know that they are part of a special environment not commonly seen in college athletics. Head Coach Scott Drew knows more than just the names of Shelley and Amundson; he and his assistant coaches truly care about the lives of the entire staff.
Shelley enjoys telling people about how close he is with the coaches, something that he does not take for granted, “They care about us a lot and our growth on the court, but also off. They are always asking me how classes are going, how my mom is, and they make it clear that we have to put our school work before basketball in order to succeed.”
“The fact that they are Godly men, I couldn’t ask for a better program and staff to be a part of,” Amundson says.
The day ends and the two students go home to work on whatever schoolwork they have left. Recently, the national sports media has begun to publicize the efforts of collegiate basketball managers around the country, but the work of people like Shelley and Amundson still goes unnoticed.
To them, however, that is not necessarily a bad thing. In the end, they just want people to know what truly goes on behind the scenes of basketball season and March Madness.
“Fans should know that it is a lot of work. It’s not just about getting free gear or getting to travel around the country and miss school. That’s not it at all.” Amundson continues, “We put in a lot of work behind the scenes that no one notices. I am just blessed to be a servant of this God-honoring program and I hope that one day I can model my program the way Coach Drew and his staff do.”
Shelley agrees, “I want people to know that we’re not the common social perception of just being water boys and people who wipe up sweat. There is a lot more to the job than that.”
He continues, “But while we work a lot, I think we have the greatest job in the world, because we get to be a part of something special with these teams.”