October 28, 2020

46 Thank You's

Top 46 Influential Figures in My Career


​When I was featured in The Athletic’s Top 40 Under 40 Influential Figures in College Basketball, it made me think about all of the influential people in my life that have made an impact on me both personally and professionally. Coming up with this list was an easy task. From family and friends, to coaches, to former players, to individuals I’ve idolized from a distance - this list consists of individuals who have helped shape me into the man, father, and coach I am today. 


Joyce Christian (Mom) 
Mom, you’ve always had such amazing love and support. People often say that they admire my level of forgiveness, but I learned all that from you: watching you, each day, pour your passion into your students and then come home and do the same for Jarell and I. I don’t need to imagine what that did for us because look where we stand now. Be great at two things is what I tell our players: be a great provider and be a great worker. I believe we can be great at these two things because of you. I watched you do it. Super Hero in every stretch of the word.

Mom, thank you for always inspiring me to do more.

John Christian (Dad)
Dad, no person would ever call you soft and stand there. You are the toughest, most determined and focused person that I know.  As an athlete and as a coach, I watched you take a track team with no track and win a state title. No matter your circumstances, you never once made an excuse and you always found a way to be the best. You’ve won at everything you’ve tried in life, yet you haven't once told me about your success. Instead, you always told me about how hard you had to work to achieve it. There’s not many like you, but I’m glad you're mine. 

Dad, Thank you for showing me that the only true obstacle is yourself. 

Jarell Christian (Brother)
Little brother, what can I say? From playing with socks on and hoops connected to the door to jumping off of the couch trying to be the Ultimate Warrior, no matter how hard I hit you, you always got up. You’ve continued to work your way through this life and be a huge success.  You’re the first person I ever had the opportunity to coach. You were the youngest in our neighborhood, and to play with us, we had to teach you… everything. You learned, you fought back, and you always had the last laugh.

Jarell, Thank you for showing me what true perseverance looks like. 

Allie Christian (Wife)
Somehow I got lucky and bumped into you at the perfect time in my life. You’re as smart and talented as any person I have ever come across. We laugh and dance after loses. After wins, you make sure that I enjoy our accomplishments. You never let my head get too big, but you also never allow me to drop my head too low. You relentlessly lead our family and challenge me to be a better man each day. You’re a ray of light towards a better day each and everyday we awake aside one another.

Allie, thank you for being the soulmate that can walk this journey with me, side-by-side. 

Jacoy Christian (Son)
You don’t know to love until you have a child. The love you have when you hold your child for the first time changes the soul of a person. Jacoy does that to me every time we connect. There’s a spark that you feel each time that you hold your child. I asked my mother, “Does that spark ever go away?”  Her response,”It never does.” As a parent, that spark gives you clarity on what is most important. It invigorates you to strive to become much more than you ever thought possible. 

Jacoy, thank you for giving me life and purpose.

Grandma Ruth 
Momma Ruth, the day you passed, God got an angel who worked tirelessly to share his message here on Earth. Somehow you found a way to impact every person you came across. Your faith in God and your faith in people were truly remarkable. “If you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all.” It is wisdom like this which has helped me become who I am today: always asking us to be kind, always asking us to mind our words and our actions.

Grandma, thank you for teaching me to trust in “God’s plan, above man's plan.”

Grandpa John
Grandpa, each day you would come home from work at exactly 4 p.m. You’d jump out of the truck and rush all of us (your grandchildren). Each day, you would play with all of us. You made every one of us feel like the most important person in the world to you. You always took time for us. Your smile, big and bright, and your energy filled any room you walked into.  

Daddy John, thank you for teaching the power of a smile and positive energy. 

Grandpa Moses
The sign in the garage read “20 dollars to fix, 40 dollars if you help.” The sign suggests you know exactly what you need to be at your best. You valued your time as an expert and never let someone infringe on your time. A self made machinist. Not sure how someone could put any engine in front of you without you figuring out a way to fix it. 

Daddy Moe, thank you for showing me how being a self made man is the best way to discover yourself.

Tiffany Christian (Ex-wife)
I learned more from you than any woman outside of my mother. Sometimes two good people with great intentions just don’t work out. We created an amazing life together (Jacoy) and as the mother of our son I wouldn’t choose anyone different. I learned to fail and fail hard with you, but that we are capable of growing through the tough stuff. And when we do, we can create our reality to build a wonderful life for our son.

Tiffany, thank you for teaching me that when two people have the right intentions in mind anything can be accomplished. 

Bo Christian (Cousin)
You were the cooler older cousin, and a basketball star in your own right. You probably never knew how much I looked up to you: the way you drove your car, the way you styled your clothes, and the way you made people, like myself, feel. Now, I work with teenagers and I don't think I have ever met anyone as cool as you. We would play catch, and you would take the time to teach me how to wash a car (which I think was a trick so you didn't have to do it, lol). Nevertheless, I never had an older brother and you were exactly that to me.

Bo, thank you for being the big brother I never had.

Dr. John Bruno
Do you believe in angels? I believe deeply that God places people in your life for a reason and he always does so when you need them the most. John, you’ve been there as a father figure for me time and time again through the years. Working through my divorce, you would check on me almost weekly. In the toughest time in my life, you answered my calls over and over again. I am eternally grateful.

John, thank you for being the voice I needed to hear when I needed to hear it.

Jason Epps
We have seen it all. From losing seasons to great seasons, either way you have always stood by my side. As a person who wouldn't say they have a lot of friends, you have always been there for me and I can’t say how much it has meant. From Emory, Va. to Albany, N.Y., I could always count on you to be there wearing a crazy hat and cheering for our success. They just do not make people and friends like you. 

Jason, thank you for showing me what true friendship means.

Nick Dodson
“The Four Agreements,” you gifted this book to me when we left college. We hated to read in college, but once we got out we would discuss anything that we were learning. This book was the start of a lifetime of me wanting to learn more and to find the knowledge needed to reach for my outer limits. You always believed in me and what we could do. Inspiration takes many forms, but sharing of knowledge is the best way to inspire, and you always do that. 

Nick, thank you for being the person who would often believe in me even when I didn't believe in myself. 

Christin Gethers
One of my oldest and longest friends. From the first day you made fun of me in an elevator for wearing khakis, until now, we have had a full journey of friendship. God doesn't make people like you, and I am blessed to have you standing in my corner. 

Christin, thank you for always making fun of me and making me laugh at myself.

Kevin Robinson
KRob, from the annoying younger coach on staff, to one of the best people anyone could ever have on their side. You're a fierce competitor who studies culture and leadership like few that I know. I’ve always appreciated your willingness to grow. You’ve taken what you did best as a player and coach and applied it to fundraising at my alma mater. When I say “you're the best,” I truly mean it. 

Kevin, thank you for being an ultra competitor in all things. Friendship being one of them.

Jad Packniak
Jad, you probably don’t even know this, but I credit you with bringing my joy back to the game. Believe it or not, there was a time where I worked in basketball but didn’t love it. Each weekend while we worked at William & Mary, you would beg me to come out to the courts and play. No matter how many times I said “no,” you kept asking me, week by week. When I finally said “yes,” playing alongside you on those playgrounds helped me rediscover my true love of the game, leaving the court with tears of pure joy in my eyes. I’ll never go back. 

Jad, thank you for reconnecting me with my first love.

Kirt Zimniewicz
My longest friend! From four years old until now, we’ve been together for every tragedy and celebration imaginable. You always tackle everything that comes your way with such enthusiasm, always meeting a tough time with a perfectly timed joke. You just love people. You’ve always been the most caring and forgiving person in my life.

Kirt, thanks for being a lifelong friend with an incredible heart for others.

Coached Me 

Kirk Saulny
Coach, you showed up on our coaching staff just as my best years were emerging as a player, and you were still there when my final years started to come to a close. As players, we always have this clock ticking on when our last game will be, but we rarely know when that will happen. When that happens, who will be there to help you into the next phase? Who will be there to show you the door? Well, Coach, you showed me the door. As a senior, I didn't play very much. You always listened and you always offered sound advice. You taught me how to watch film that year and build scouting reports. You encouraged me to speak up in front of the team. The power of that moment in despair gave me direction to move with confidence to the next best thing.

Coach Saulny, thank you for educating me and showing me I was more than just my points on the scoreboard. 

Jack Mclatchy
You were always the guy on staff with a different perspective. You had lived a tough life, but your love for the game was unparalleled. Into your 70’s, you would play noon hoops and those sharp elbows were things that were legendary in any circle where you competed. As a player, you always made sure that you spent time with the guys on the end of the bench. As a mentor to me when I became head coach, you came to practice each day making sure I knew I had your support. I miss you each day when I walk into the gym. 

Jack, thank you for teaching me that there is one way to play the game and it's all out until you can't give anymore.

Jim Phalen
You’re a legend. You did this better than most for 49 years. You never seem to get the respect that you deserve and you haven't flinched about it ever. Your ability to keep the main thing the main thing has always been just unreal. You coached me and loved me as a player. When I took over at the Mount, where most wouldn't have helped me, you instead showed up once a week and guided me with the advice only a legend could have done.  Winning or losing, you always coached me. You always cared for me. You always wanted me to be at my best. That’s exactly what a coach does. 

Coach Phalen, thank you for showing me what being elite truly looks like each day.

Ed Allen
Coach, you’re a modest guy. Hell, right now you’re probably working at the boat dock just because you love doing it. You’ve always been a worker and you were never afraid to do the toughest stuff. When I played for you, I didn't always understand what you were trying to teach us, but you always found me afterwards and would explain it deeply. You helped me understand the importance of the team and how the answers aren't always easy, that each player and his circumstances are different, and to respect and to listen to each guy before holding judgement.

Coach Allen, thank you for teaching me to be a teacher first and a coach second.  

Milan Brown
Coach, you made the trip to New Kent to meet me and my family. Very few did that. You called and gave me an opportunity when most people were afraid to take the chance on the Single A Player of the Year. I remember the first phone call like it was yesterday, the way we connected felt natural and set us up for a foundation that will last a lifetime.  From Coach to mentor, you’re one of the people I trust most in this life. I aspire for every kid that I recruit or coach to have a relationship like you and I do.  

Coach Brown, thank you for so much… making a phone call.. believing in me… mentoring me. I love you coach.

Ronnie Cox
You’re the best teacher of culture I have ever known. A man of great faith and a protector of people. You would teach us the value of being a man of faith but also living with a competitive fire. You never get the credit for giving us such a foundation of leadership. You were relentless teaching us how to lead, how to be better men, and how to care as teammates.  

Coach Cox, thank you for showing me that being a man of faith will always be more important than any trophy we can win. 

A Few I Worked For

Bob Johnson
Coach, you showed me what it meant to be a leader and how a leader means being much bigger than yourself. You were a masterful leader, a skilled artist in teaching others to dig deeper within themselves. I’m not sure how you found guys like me, but when you did, you molded me into something so much more. From the first day that I arrived there on campus, you showed me what love truly was and how powerful it was, not just for the office space but for everyone to find their true selves. 

Coach Johnson, thank you for demanding that I find my best self to help impact others.

Shaka Smart
Coach Smart, there is no one in this life like you. You’ve had a ton of success and so much more is ahead of you. But what people don't realize about you, is how much you live your life for love and care for others. I watched you change peoples lives. There is no one better at taking someone from point A to point B and making them feel that they had the power to do that the entire time.

Coach Smart, thank you for giving me the confidence to be me. 

Pat Flannery
Coach Flannery, you’re a master of being organized and demanding that those around you do the same. Working beside you for two years gave me a complete perspective on what it means to be a complete face of a program. At Bucknell, you were a great player and came back to your alma mater to help build unparalleled success. I watched the pressure take an emotional hold on you because you cared so much about the happiness of others. You recognized that what you were building was much larger than yourself, loving the thrill of it all.

Coach Flannery, thank you for showing me the passion it takes to build a legacy.

Worked Alongside

Darryl Bruce
When you’re a 29 year old head coach, you need veteran leadership around you to help you find yourself. Coach Bruce did exactly that for me during my first few seasons at the Mount. He would constantly give me great belief in myself and also constantly give our group the knowledge they needed to excel. He’s as unselfish as a person there is to work with. 

Darryl, thank you for believing in me and giving me the confidence to succeed so early in my career.

Ben Wilkins
A coaches of coaches! I joined the staff at William & Mary without any Division I assistant coach experience at a time when the CAA was maybe as good as it had ever been. Wilkins had a fearlessness to push W&M to the top of the league. On a daily basis, he walked our staff through all the things that he had learned along the way. He was fearless in teaching our staff anything we needed to know to be successful.  He later joined my first staff at the Mount. I wouldn’t be standing where I am today without his unreal leadership those first few seasons.  He’s the best at establishing culture that I have ever worked alongside.

Ben, thank you for being relentless in building culture and sharing it with me.

Will Wade
Will and I work on different schedules: he is an early morning guy and I am a late night guy. There were many times we were passing in the early hours when we both worked at VCU, but his respect for how people worked is something that I always admired. Did you contribute to the success of the team? Did you challenge him to be at his best? He loved these two things and loved people around him that upheld them. 

Will, thank you for showing me that there are always different journeys to get to the destination.

Mike Morrell
One of my longest friends in this business. We first met at the Stateline Bar and Restaurant. At the time, he was coaching at King College and I was at Emory & Henry College. Little did we know, that years later, we would become close confidants, sharing the truth to one another when we needed it most. 

Mike, thank you for riding on this journey with me and for always being the person that I need in whatever the moment presents.

Nathan Davis

What can I say, every opportunity I've received has been in large part because of your guidance. Emory and Henry, Bucknell, and William & Mary - you opened all those doors for me. I am eternally grateful for that. You're my first call when I have a question and you always tell me what I need to hear. I appreciate your honesty and I love your commitment to those who are closest to you. 

Nathan, thank you for always reminding me to chill and that things will be alright. 

Donny Lind
“Why guess when you can know!” Donny would always walk around the office and push us to find the answers to the toughest questions. He would constantly push our office to put a number to as many things as possible to eliminate explicit bias. His friendship through the years and reminder of who I am through the years has been such a difference maker. 

Donny, thank you for teaching me the importance of pushing the boundaries and seeing things from all perspectives. 

Former Players

Robert Hudson
I remember picking up your recruiting card from your high school coach. It read, “5’10 but squats 350!” I looked around our roster and thought we didn't have anyone that could do that, so it was worth a follow-up call. Thank God I made that call. The trips to Nashville to watch you play and watching you take your teams to states was so fun to watch. However, my true joy came in watching you excel as a person. Your businesses are starting to take off and there is no doubt that you’ll find success. You always carried the weight and made those around you better. 

Robert, thank you for showing me that the heart of a man is what changes the world.

Brandon Britt
You were the first player to really believe in me as a recruiter. You wanted someone to believe in you. You wanted what William and Mary had educationally. All that fit like a glove. Our journey didn't finish together but our life journeys have always and will always be connected.  

Brandon, thank you for believing in me when most wouldn't have.

Marcus Thornton
Sadly I never got to coach you, but I got a chance to marvel at your ability from a distance over and over. I watched you play as a sophomore in a JV game. I left there in complete amazement of you as a player. You were special every second of it. From nearly that point on, I was on 95 headed north to see you as much as possible, and your mailbox was filled with damn near love letters from me. During that time, it was your work that separated you from most. Highs and lows, believers or non believers, you kept getting up and doing the work. You never listened to those who didn't believe in you and you always believed in yourself.

Marcus, thank you for teaching me to believe in the person (always) and never the hype. 

Chris Wray
Chris was going to leave the Mount after his sophomore year. When he told me, I was heartbroken. I truly love the guy. For three days, we engaged in raw truth. It was amazing. From that moment forward, I pledged to be completely truthful with my players, not sugar coat the truth or try to hide. Now, when a player asks me a question, they know they’re going to get the unfiltered truth.  

Chris, thank you for teaching me the importance of raw honesty with my players. 

Troy Daniels
You always showed up! When I got to VCU, you were a junior. Man, you were already a great player, you just didn't realize it all just yet. Whether it was 2 a.m. or 6 a.m., you showed up everyday for more work. Until then, I hadn't had a player as talented as you and as eager as you to excel. Watching you grow as man has been a complete joy to my life. The shy kid I met years ago doesn't exist any longer (as your social media shows the world) and as this confident, amazing human you find a way to showcase that on a daily basis

Troy, thank you for showing me that showing up and growing up makes all the difference in the world.

Rashad Whack
I love this guy! Rashad is a star in everything that he puts his mind to. He was the best teammate and the best player I coached at that time. His humbleness and passion for his teammates was surreal to watch. How good can you be when your best player is also your best teammate? Damn good! It holds everyone accountable in such a humanistic way that success becomes assured!

Rashad, thank you for showing me what an elite player truly looks like and what he does for a program. 

Korey Townsend
When we were at Emory and Henry, we took a foreign trip to Ireland.  During the flight, you leaned over and said, “Coach, I never thought I’d leave the country.” The smile on your face is something I will never forget.  

Korey, thank you for always reminding me that our biggest responsibility is to provide our players with opportunities that will change their lives.


Ms. Jenkins (High School Algebra 2 Teacher)
I failed your class, miserably. I went home and did all the same things that most teenagers do. “My teacher doesn't like me, she is mean to us, etc..” My parents didn’t go for it and they made me take your class again the next year. I learned so much from Ms. Jenkins: so incredibly passionate about what she was teaching and driven to make sure that each one of her students understood the importance of what she was teaching. Even more so, she wasn't going to give you anything. I struggled, but the amount of time she spent with me before and after class, changed my perspective.  

Ms. Jenkins, thank you for teaching me that the best thing you can do for someone is to make them earn it each day.  

At A Distance

Lin Manuel Miranda
Seven years to write “Hamilton.” This makes me dream about what can be done in that amount of time. What can we build? What can we create? If it took you seven years to create something that would change the way people view the world, could you have the discipline to do it? When I watch Hamilton, those are all the things that I feel. 

Lin Manuel, thank you for being an amazing storyteller and not showing fear in challenging cultural norms. 

President Barack Obama
When I was a boy, I told my mom “I want to be president.” Her response startled me, “We won’t see a black man as president in our lifetime.” My mom, who is one of the most positive people on the planet, was simply stating what many black families felt at the time. Then, entered this charismatic person to our world. He not only won an election (two actually), but, in the midst of it, created this belief amongst people of color that yes, we can achieve anything. For the first time, there were no limits on who I wanted to be or anyone else for that matter. Dream and dream big.

President Obama, thank you for daring us all to hope and to hope bigger than we had been allowed before. 

George Raveling
When learning how to navigate college basketball and how to impact people, there is no better example than Coach Raveling. Although we have never met, the giants of the game have a way of connecting with those at a distance. For years, I’ve used anything I could about Coach’s philosophy as a guide for how I should respond to things, and most importantly, treat people.  

Coach Raveling, thank you for being committed to a lifetime of teaching us all.

Difference Makers

Tanya Vogel (GW Director of Athletics)
We are on this crazy journey together. The first year did not go as planned, but there is no one I'd rather be working with to lead us through this time. I am amazed at how you lead your department. Your energy and vulnerability on a daily basis demands us all to be better. You remind us all to stand up, to do the right things, and to be proud we are doing it. 

Tanya, thank you for leading through the toughest times and doing so with complete grace and honesty.

Brian Levenson
I love your curiosity. I truly feel like we mix in a crazy creative way. As we are “striving to do something that has never been done before,” I appreciate how you tackle life. I recognize that in the next crucial steps of the journey we will need one another to challenge and recreate the way people see sports. 

Brian, thank you for constantly challenging my thoughts. 

Paxton Baker
You have accomplished so much in your career. Yet you are alway willing to guide and mentor others including myself.  We have only been connected for a short period of time, but each time we connect I feel like I leave our conversation insanely smarter.  

Paxton, Thank you for helping me see the bigger picture.