Oklahoma State senior Phil Forte and sophomore Jawun Evans have participated in far too many practices to count since they began playing basketball as youngsters. But never, ever did they expect to spend two days training with the incomparable Navy SEALS.
Cowboys first-year head coach Brad Underwood surprised his team just a few days before practice for the 2016-17 season officially began this weekend by having them work with a group of Navy SEALs (Navy SEa, Air, and Land teams, a component of the Naval Special Warfare Command). The players spent Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning work with the Navy special ops unit.
“It was a different voice. And it was about leadership. It was about teamwork,” said Underwood. “It was about getting them out of their comfort zone. We go to the basketball court all the time, and they’re comfortable there most of the time. Put them in a swimming pool, and having them follow assignments, and tasks, and succeeding in that.
“And having certain guys have to lead. It was very, very beneficial. (It was) extremely good for us as a coaching staff, and extremely good for our players. The group that we had, called The Program, was excellent.”
The Cowboys spent time with the group Tuesday afternoon but both Evans and Forte say the toughest part was Wednesday when the team arrived at the Colvin Center on campus at 5 a.m. to meet with the SEALs. There they worked out in the deep end of the swimming pool.
“Definitely the pool. Stuff we had to do in the pool. That was tough. That was really tough,” said Forte when asked what was the toughest part of the two days of training. “It kind of challenged you mentally to regroup from that first workout and come back and get ready for the second.”
What did Forte learn about this team? “At first when we started it was kind of rough. Then the next day we carried it forward and we all just wanted to rally around each other,” he said. “The main thing was paying attention to the details. Your team is as strong as the weakest link, so we rallied around each other no matter how anybody on the team was struggling, we had to help them out. That’s kind of how this season is going to be; we’re only going to be as good as our weakest link. I think that’s something we learned the past two days working with them.”
Underwood said it was the first time he had the Navy SEALs work with one of his teams.
“I have heard about it being done and heard a lot of positives about that,” he said. “I am a big Navy SEALs fan, in terms of reading and so forth. I admire how they go about doing their job. I felt like it could benefit our team and help bring them together. Again, it’s an outside voice that sometimes is very, very beneficial. They’re going to hear me a lot here for the next five, six months, so hearing a different perspective can be very beneficial.
“But there were so many teachable moments from the SEALs. It’s not just raising your voice, it’s about following directions and being able to lead. The leadership concepts and the selfless mentality you have to have through that process, when you’re holding a teammate up in the pool, those things are what team building is about. That’s something we thrive on and stress a great deal. They just heard it from a different voice than mine.”
Forte says the Cowboys know getting to work with the SEALs was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that none of them will soon forget.
“Like I said, just being in the presence (of the Navy SEALs) and that’s something not many people get to say they’ve done,” Forte said. “I mean it was hard, don’t get me wrong, but it’s an experience that everyone will be grateful for when you look back at it.”
The Cowboys play their lone exhibition game against Pittsburg State on Nov. 1, and open the regular season against Campbell University on Nov. 11 inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.