There were two armed robbers somewhere on campus, but at the time, seeing the Low Battery message flash on our phones seemed like the direr situation. That’s what happens when six hours are spent cooped up in a small classroom with 15 other people, who all had plans that didn’t include voluntarily participating in a campus lockdown while local police and SWAT officers went on a building-by-building manhunt looking for the men responsible for shooting a jewelry sales clerk and leading police on a high speed chase that ended across the street from Cal State Fullerton. There was no sense of panic or dread in our small, makeshift commune, only a strong sense of annoyance. We pulled up live news coverage on the projector. When it proved to be useless, we switched over to episodes of Arrested Development to keep from going stir-crazy. It wasn’t helping; I was close to my breaking point. By 8:30 p.m., more than four hours into the ordeal, my frustration had toppled my fear and I headed toward the stairs. I looked down a flight. It was barricaded by SWAT team officers armed with assault rifles that nearly eclipsed their bodies. None of us were leaving. Not any time soon.
D.J. and I didn’t even need to be there.
Hours earlier, we walked into an empty classroom. It was the first of two weeks entirely devoted to final presentations. The presentations would be given in a panel format, with three different speakers exploring three different issues, lumped into topically related groups. D.J. and I were lumped in a panel, but we weren’t set to present until Week 2. To kill time before the rest of the class arrived, we struck up our normal conversation: the state of Cal State Fullerton basketball (of which he was largely responsible for, given that he was arguably the best player on the squad), the state of the Lakers and the relief of having only one semester left in our college careers. We’d both thought about skipping class, but figured we had nothing better to do. If only we’d known what was coming.
I also figured it would be one of the last times I’d see D.J. My final semester would be spent off-campus and he still had classes to take in Fullerton and basketball games to play as a Titan. The thought that our paths might cross again in the future, especially considering what we want to do for a living, never entered my mind. It should have.
After a solid defensive effort from Los Angeles Lakers guard D.J. Seeley in a summer league game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers, an audible “Good job, Seeley!” came down from the stands. He had a small, but dedicated cheering section, ready to erupt at even the less perceptible contributions he’d made on the team. It took the discerning eye of those who knew Seeley best to recognize the little things he’d done while on the floor. It took his family.
“Yeah, they’re here,” Seeley said. “My family came up here on vacation from California. They’re having fun. Man, I’m having fun, too.”
Seeley was all smiles in Las Vegas, and it’s hard to blame him. Seeley was in Atlanta working out with the Hawks in the predraft process when he got the call. He made the team after showing well in the Lakers’ summer camp and team workouts leading up to the 2013 draft. His time with the Lakers in Las Vegas was the first big step of a childhood dream coming true. It’s the astronaut training before making the voyage into space; it’s the passing the physical exam on the way to becoming a firefighter. It only gets tougher from there, but making the first step affirms a certain level of commitment to the dream.
Last week, D.J. got a step closer. He signed with Serbian club Radnički Kragujevac of the Adriatic League, the team that Terrico White, the Detroit Pistons’ 2010 second round pick, played for last season. Only a day after the signing, Seeley was already listed on the team’s Wikipedia page as the projected starting shooting guard. He’ll be the only player on the team not from Eastern Europe.
White talked to me about how much he matured playing on Radnički. He was forced to grow up, forced to dedicate all of his waking hours to basketball because “there ain’t nothing else to do but ball.” Basketball will be Seeley’s job, but it’ll also have to be his mode of communication and cultural exchange, at least until he figures his way around life overseas.
D.J. won’t have a problem finding a taste of home—there are McDonald’s in Kragujevac and White was able to find more Americanized cuisine under different names—but fast food wasn’t exactly his scene. His final presentation was on athletes and nutrition, so I’m sure he’ll be happy about Serbia’s organic food output, which Serbia’s department of tourism is totally promoting right now. (Hey D.J., just so you know, “organic milk” is “органско млеко” in Serbian.)
It’s still strange. I knew D.J. as the guy I sat next to in class when I decided to show up, not as the student athlete who made the All-Big West team in his two years at Fullerton. I’d seen him play in person. I knew his talent. But questions about whether he was considering the NBA Draft never crossed my mind in class. College is about expansion, but it’s still very much an insulated environment. We’re taught to dream big, but my imagination couldn’t render that possibility. Every school has its star athletes, but most see their progress cap off early, and move on from their childhood dreams. Few keep going, even fewer actually reach an attractive destination.
We’ve all fantasized about playing for our favorite team as kids. D.J. lived that dream for five games. The moments were fleeting, but they happened. They really happened.
I walked up to D.J. after the Lakers-Clippers summer league game. We approached each other as classmates who hadn’t seen the other in a while, but there was a noticeable difference. I had a voice recorder in my hand. How we were talking about the Lakers now wasn’t how we talked about it then. The unavoidable interviewer-interviewee format changes things.
I asked him about the Cal State Fullerton lockdown. I knew where it ranked in my “Worst College Experiences” power rankings, but was curious where it had landed in his.
“Eh,” Seeley said. “It was up there, but it wasn’t a big deal to me. Probably Top-8, I would say Top-8.”
…Top-8? Being locked in a room with people you hardly know for six hours, and being greeted at the stairs by armored men with firearms the size of German shepherds barely makes the cut in a Not-Top-10?
I’m not sure if this means I did college right or wrong.