You probably don’t know who I am, which is good. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. You may recognize me as “That one guy from the basketball games” or maybe even as “That graphics guy from twitter”, but there’s a really good chance you don’t know who I am, so I think it’s best to introduce myself. I am a student manager for Auburn Men’s Basketball, and my job is to get everything done that you don’t see. Set up, workouts, practices, you name it; we do it with no glory and no appreciation. This is the way I like it though, the way it should be, just like a wise poet once said, “real G’s move in silence like lasagna”.
My name is Thomas Northcutt and I’m a senior graduating in May with a degree in Marketing from Auburn. More importantly, and the reason you’ve clicked on this article, I have spent the entirety of my four years at Auburn as a student manager for the Auburn Men’s Basketball team. My time with the team has been one of the biggest blessings I could’ve ever asked for, opening so many doors for me and shaping the course of my life forever. Now, the great people at C&M are letting me do the only thing I haven’t done yet. This is Auburn Basketball from the eyes of a manager. This is my story.
I found out I would get to work with Auburn when I was still in high school. I spent my four years at Grissom High School as a basketball manager, and my coaches really encouraged me to continue managing in college. Their encouragement combined with my love for basketball and managing pushed me to reach out to the previous Auburn staff about managing in college. I had a meeting scheduled with the staff about managing over my spring break… then they all got fired. I didn’t know this until recently, but the old staff was going to hire me, so when the new staff in, one of the then managers, now AU Women’s Basketball’s DOBO and amazing human being Bianca Webb, pushed them to hire me (Thank you Bianca). So, when I finally talked to Todd Golden on the phone in May of 2014 and he told me they were “going to honor the commitment of the old staff and bring me on as a manager”, I was equal parts confused and excited.
I worked my first camps and practices in June of 2014, where I met Coach Pearl and the staff for the first time. I was star struck momentarily, but then I quickly realized “This is an everyday thing, don’t get too excited. He’s your coach now”. I learned very quickly that it wasn’t like high school basketball, where I was immediately thrust into helping with drills, rebounding for players, and literally sprinting across a court to wipe up sweat. Then assistant coach Tony Jones actually sat all the managers down after one of our first summer workouts and said “This isn’t little kid ball anymore. This is the SEC, we wanna run a fast-paced practice so we can play at a fast pace in games,” and that was my “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” moment.
One of my favorite stories from my first year at Auburn actually starts before I ever stepped foot in my first class. After that first week of camps, I went back to Huntsville, then less than a week later, I was back down for my Camp War Eagle session, with my brand new Auburn Basketball shirts I had got the week before on and my Grissom basketball bag on my back. As I meet my group for the first time, I had one of the other guys come up and ask me if I played basketball at Grissom, to which I replied with, “Uhh, kinda, why?,” to which I got the response of “I played at Mountain Brook,” which was disappointing to me, seeing as Mountain Brook was the team that knocked out my team in the Elite 8 that year, ending my season and career at Grissom. Putting my TOTALLY not bitter feelings aside, I got to talking to this guy, found out he was actually in a photo from that Elite 8 game I had saved on my phone. He was working on being a preferred walk on with Auburn Basketball, which was pretty cool to know someone else who wanted to be a part of this experience I was about to be a part of.
That guy’s name was Patrick Keim. He and I are now the only two students left from Bruce’s first team at Auburn. Small world, ain’t it?
Coming into the 2014-15 season, people had a lot of hype and expectations for us. Everyone knew what Coach Pearl did at Tennessee in his first year, and there was a slight undertone of that going into the year. I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew what Coach Pearl did at Tennessee, probably better than anyone in Auburn. I grew up in a family of Tennessee grads, 3 generations of Vols to be exact, so I remembered what he did that first year. I remember everything he did for Tennessee. But I knew this was different. It was my first year working college basketball, and I was just out there doing what I knew and loved. And if I’m being honest, I did not watch any Auburn Basketball in 2013-14 since I didn’t grow up an Auburn fan like most people. So I came in blind, having to do my research to know who our players were and what I was really getting myself into.
Don’t worry, I learned my Bodda Getta’s and my Weagle’s real quick.
While the team started battling in nonconference play, I was trying to earn my reputation as a manager. I was coming in and rebounding as much as I could, accepting my role sitting behind the baskets during games, but wanting more. I worked hard enough that, by the 3rd road trip of the season, I was already traveling to Clemson on a bus, and by the 5th Home game of the season (Winthrop), I had already earned my seat behind the bench giving out water towels, the one thing I knew how to do. Fast forward to conference play, and I get honored with a trip to Lexington and Rupp Arena (overrated venue IMO. Fight me, BBN), my first plane trip. I was working my tail off and it was getting appreciated, which motivated me even more.
The season didn’t go quite as well as everyone had hoped. We knocked off Xavier in 2OTs, one of my favorite games that I’ve been a part of, then won 2 of our first three games in conference play. From there… you know the rest. We finished 4 and 14 in conference play (Oh 4-14, if only we knew how important you would become). But, looking back at it, given the roster and some of the circumstances surrounding the team, we did about as well as everyone expected.
Then came the SEC Tournament. Just like I figured, they brought the 3 senior managers on that trip. But I got a text from someone, I can’t remember who, in the week leading up saying that they wanted me to travel. I was the only freshman manager, the youngest manager on our team, and I got asked to travel over everyone else (Sorry Brooks, love you dog). I was so excited. I grew up in Nashville, going to Predators games at what was then the GEC, now Bridgestone Arena, so this was my chance to go home and work a game in MY arena. We got to practice at the high school my mom graduated from before the first round, stayed at the Opryland Hotel, a place very special to my family, and even accidentally drove right past my childhood home. It was a nice homecoming trip for me.
I also wrote a story on the adventures of myself and our equipment guy during that week back in 2015 for UniWatch, because dealing with our uniforms was a mess. If you’d like to read that, you can check it out here.
Oh yeah, and then we started winning. We beat Mississippi State that first day, our first conference tournament win in way too long. Then we beat Danuel House and Texas A&M the next day, which essentially kept A&M out of the Big Dance that year. That one felt good. Then came the twin towers in Martin and Mickey at LSU. We had beat them at their place earlier in the year, so I knew we could do it again. We all did. If I’m being honest, most of that game is a blur to me at this point. I really only remember everything after 5.9 left in regulation, which also became the most important 5.9 seconds of that season. I will never forget watching that play and the roller coaster of emotions I felt in those 5.9 seconds. I went from nervous, to terrified for the less than a second that Cinmeon Bowers had the ball, to celebrating like we won the whole tournament. The ball still moves in slow motion in my head. Swish. Buzzer. Red Lights. The band starts playing War Eagle. That. Just. Happened.
Honestly, while winning the game was fun, some of the best parts came after the game when we heard they rolled Toomers, then watching our game as the lead story on SportsCenter back at the hotel. That’s when it was real.
While our magical run came to an end the next day against Kentucky, that week is still one of the most indescribable and amazing things I’ve been a part of. And it was all capped off by the hundreds of people waiting outside Auburn Arena for us when we got home. That was the icing on the cake. Just seeing the hope and excitement we brought to this campus meant the world, and I am so thankful to this day I got to be with the team during that week.
This was part one in a five part series by Thomas. Be sure to join us the rest of the week to see the rest! Also, be sure to follow Thomas on Instagram and on Twitter at @RealTCutt.