(Photo courtesy of Florida State Athletics)

I was just four months removed from the title game when the NFL draft came, but I was not surprised to go undrafted. The writing was already on the wall. I didn't attend the NFL Combine because I felt like teams were already overlooking me, and also passed on the opportunity to workout for teams at FSU's Pro Day event on campus.

What I do recall doing during that time in my life was praying.

I've been a Christian my whole life, and gave my life to the Lord at 10 years old, but at that point in my life I was going through my biggest adversity I had ever experienced, and leaned on prayer. I remembered that I'm not control of everything that was going to happen to me, but I needed to allow things to happen and just be ready for whatever opportunity came my way.

 
 

(Photo courtesy of Florida State Athletics)

That opportunity came when the New York Knicks took a gamble on me.

It was amazing to still play sports professionally, but in another way it was a major challenge, because basketball wasn't my best sport. I went from being an elite college football player to a role player off the bench for the Knicks. In my first season, I played in 10 games and scored just 1.6 points per game. I got better as I gained more experience, but I never became a superstar. In my best season of my 11-year career, I averaged 7.8 points per game.

Just like any other person - athlete or non-athlete - we all have an ego. It's tough to look around and see that maybe I wasn't the best player on the team. If we wanted the best chance to win, sometimes I needed to pass the ball so somebody else could take the shot. In football, every offensive play ran through me as the quarterback. In the NBA, I might go several possessions without touching the ball. That was, of course, if I was even on the court.

It wasn't always easy for me, but it was the beginning of a maturation process. As I grew spiritually, it was easier to see that what was good for the team didn't always mean that I would take the big shot. Maybe it meant setting a screen so another player could get open. It was no different than when I changed habits off the court. Just like how I put the team ahead of myself during games, I decided to put God in front of myself when I was in my hotel room. And slowly but surely those unhealthy urges faded away.

The unselfish mindset began to show on the court as well, because in 1999 we made it all the way to the NBA Finals as an 8 seed.

We lost in 5 games to the Spurs that year, and that was as close as I ever got to an NBA title, but I have no regrets about my journey. I already had my championship ring with Florida State, but that's not why I feel at peace. It's because it I did the best I could with the path God gave me. And since it brought me here, sharing God's glory with you today, than I guess I did alright.

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Thomas HagerComment