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How KU's head basketball manager stole the spotlight during Thursday's boot camp

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KU basketball manager Riley Cobb, known as "Ollie," poses inside the Jayhawks practice gym just a few hours after surprising everyone by jumping into KU's conditioning drills.

KU basketball manager Riley Cobb, known as "Ollie," poses inside the Jayhawks practice gym just a few hours after surprising everyone by jumping into KU's conditioning drills. by Matt Tait

When Riley Cobb grabbed the sweat mop early Thursday morning, he had no idea what was coming next.

On Day 4 of Kansas basketball boot camp, bright and early inside the Jayhawks’ practice gym, Cobb, a Kansas senior from Silver Lake, was running through his regular routine of keeping sweat off the floor so the Jayhawks could run as fast — and as safe — as possible during their preseason conditioning activities. That's when KU coach Bill Self mentioned his name.

Before we go on, it should be noted that Cobb, KU’s head student manager — now is in his third year with the program — is known by the team as “Ollie.” That's because of his striking resemblance to the character from the movie “Hoosiers” who became a bit of a hero for the Hickory Huskers by canning a couple of free throws, granny style. KU assistant Kurtis Townsend came up with the nickname and, as Cobb said, “Once KT brands you, it sticks.”

OK. Back to Thursday’s fun.

“We had two kids that did something irresponsible (on Wednesday),” recalled Self while recapping the moment with the Journal-World. “Two kids were late to a meeting. And our deal is, we punish everybody if one guy is late. So I asked the guys, ‘What kind of teammate do you think Ollie is?’ And I said, ‘Hey, Ollie, I’m going to run you or I’m going to run the whole team. What do you think I should do?’ And he said, ‘Coach, I’ll take it.’”

At that point, the players began to grumble. Nobody likes to run sprints, but even worse than that is watching someone run for you as a form of punishment.

“The players said, ‘We’ll run with him.’ And I said, ‘No, no, no, no, no. Punish Ollie for those two being late,’” Self said before adding, ‘But let’s do this different. Run with a mop. And, if he doesn’t make it, you other guys will run. So let’s make it harder and say he has to hustle a little bit. Let’s do it in 20 seconds.’”

Just like that, Cobb was thrown into the fire of having to do one of the hardest parts of boot camp on his own. Half-court and back, full-court and back in 20 seconds, a drill known as “22s,” which the Jayhawks typically get 22 seconds to complete.

“I was a little nervous,” Cobb admitted in a Thursday afternoon interview with the Journal-World. “I knew I could do it, but I was more worried about keeping the mop out of my way and not stepping on it and falling.”

Cobb’s big moment was captured on video and Tweeted out by the Kansas basketball account. In the video, you can see the players cheering him on as he hustles his way up and down the court, all while pushing the manager’s weapon in front of him.

“I told them to make sure they Tweeted it or whatever so that all the other managerial staffs in the country know there is a standard,” Self joked. “The kid’s amazing.”

To Cobb, though, Thursday’s sequence of events was merely another day in the life of a Kansas basketball manager. To him, the goal every day is to do whatever he can to help things run more smoothly for the program. During boot camp, that typically means taking care of the court.

“Our main responsibility is keeping the court dry,” Cobb said. “Our goal is to never have a guy slip and we’ve never let it happen. That court, from our perspective, stays dry. It gets to a point where we’re sweating ourselves trying to keep the court dry.”

As boot camp moves on and the players begin to saturate their clothing with sweat, shirts often come off and are thrown to the ground. Cobb moves quicker in those moments than he did during Thursday morning’s run.

“You try to catch it because it leaves a puddle on the court if it lands,” he said. “And I’d rather get it on myself than try to get it off the floor.”

Thursday’s impromptu exercise came at the perfect time in the eyes of Cobb and his co-workers, given that the past five days have been known as National Equipment Managers Week, where aides from all sorts of sports organizations are honored and celebrated for their contributions to their teams.

Along with their leader, Cobb, this season’s KU basketball student managers are: Alex Bolivar, Boca Raton, Fla.; Casey Cohen, Scottsdale, Ariz., Jon Felton, Leawood; Jack Lombardo – Burr Ridge, Ill.; Danny Meyers, Kansas City, Mo., Lexi Price, Topeka,; and Trent Schulte, Baileyville. And, together, their job is to follow Cobb’s lead and do whatever is asked of them for the program, from laundry and wiping up sweat to running errands and helping in practice.

Most of the time, it’s pretty standard stuff, but during boot camp things, are a little different. While the players are required to arrive on the court by 6 a.m. each day, Cobb and his crew are up by 4 a.m. and usually get there by 5 a.m. When you consider that they’re usually in the gym for at least 30 minutes after boot camp ends, cleaning up and putting away equipment, you’re talking about logging a 3 ½ hour day long before most people even begin theirs.

This year has been a bit of a break for Cobb, compared to his past two boot camps. On Mondays and Wednesdays, his first class begins at 1 p.m., and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he starts at 11 a.m.

“Last year, I had 8 a.m. class,” Cobb recalled. “So I was jumping right out of boot camp, trying to take a shower real quick and get to class.”

Just like the players who give all they have to the program, the sweat and sacrifice is all worth it to Cobb, who is majoring in supply chain management with a minor in sports management.

Even though he became a cult hero after running the sprint in 20 seconds on Thursday morning, Cobb does not have any designs on being a part of the action in the future.

He knows his role. He takes great pride in it. And he marvels at what he sees from the finely tuned athletes who compete at the highest level and are adored by so many.

“Even though I’ve been through it a few times now, it continues to amaze me how they do it every day,” he said.

Boot camp will conclude for the week early Friday morning before picking back up on Monday and running through Thursday as the lead-up to Late Night in the Phog on Sept. 28.

None by Kansas Basketball

Comments

Lawrence McGlinn 2 months, 3 weeks ago

That is incredibly demeaning. I guess I just don't get the culture.

Matt Tait 2 months, 3 weeks ago

If you're talking about him having to run with a mop, I think you're missing the point. (A) The mop was used as a way for Self to show his players that running a 22 with no mop is much easier than running it in 20 seconds with a mop. (B) If you watch the video and see the Jayhawks cheering him on and supporting him, you'll see that no one was making Cobb feel like anything other than a part of the team. The support was genuine and Self and everyone in that gym have a great deal of respect for Cobb and the rest of the managers.

Craig Alexander 2 months, 3 weeks ago

This is a great lesson for these guys and I plan on using it when coaching this year. You might not be the one who makes the mistake, but it hurts your teammates. You miss an assignment, then the big gets a foul because you weren't playing good D. The lesson is clear and I loved it. Not only that but the manager took it like a man and did it.

Dirk Medema 2 months, 3 weeks ago

This is incredibly brilliant of Coach Self in reminding the players see that the team is more the scholarship players at the very least and the success or failure of the program is so much more than them.

While it can be a good lesson for Craig and other coaches to use with their teams, hopefully it can be a bigger lesson for people in general to learn. To be able to give great effort in support of others, even if they get the spotlight.

Jonathan Allison 2 months, 3 weeks ago

I thought it was a great move by Self for all of the reasons listed above but also to give "Ollie" some great recognition and a piece of the spotlight.

I'm also sure that Self knows the managers well enough to know that Ollie would be eager for the opportunity to participate in that way.

Bryce Landon 2 months, 3 weeks ago

Gotta have a little fun during Boot Camp, right?

Kit Duncan 2 months, 3 weeks ago

“Ollie’s” 22 is truly the epitome of “taking one for the team.” If the Jayhawk basketball players (especially the two late-comers) weren’t humbled by this experience, then they didn’t learn anything.

I’m pretty sure they got the message.

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