Rock Chalk Weekly: Faith and Basketball

Written by Adam Sullivan, Kansas Communications Student Assistant

Christian Garrett is a man of two main paths: faith and basketball. He believes that God has placed him on a journey in life and Garrett takes advantage of each step he’s given. His journey began in Los Angeles, California where, as a child, he played every sport possible until basketball captured the heart of the young athlete.

“I thought basketball was the most fun and from that point I just got better at it,” Garrett said. “I honestly just had a desire that I really wanted to be good at it. That’s what drove me back then and still drives me, I just want to be good at it no matter what. It’s caused me to push through tons of walls. It’s just a sport that I love.”

Garrett put in the work every day. He meant it when he chose basketball and dedicated time outside of classes to practicing and learning the game. As he grew older, the commitment grew even deeper.

After spending his first three years of high school in California, Garrett left Hollywood for Florida and IMG Academy his senior year. At IMG, Garrett averaged 14 points, seven assists and six rebounds, gaining attention from programs across the country.  Garrett was playing alongside his best friend DeAndre Daniels who, at the time, was a five-star prospect and sought after by the top programs in the nation, including Kansas. Garrett’s work ethic and love for the game caught the eye of Kansas assistant coach Kurtis Townsend while he was recruiting Daniels.

Garrett had a vision growing up that he would attend a school on scholarship and become a starter, but an offer from Townsend and a little faith led him in a different direction.

“Coach Townsend told me that if I ever wanted to, I could come to KU and walk on and work my way up from there,” explained Garrett. “We prayed about it and came to visit and it was really clear that this was what I was supposed to do. My mom (Cynthia) really felt like this is where God wanted me to be. I ended up graduating high school early and on my visit to KU with the bag I had packed, I ended up staying. It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made in my life and I’m really thankful and grateful that the coaches let me do it.”

Fast forward four years and Garrett hasn’t lost his footing in either path. He has blossomed into not only a great young man, but a tremendous leader on a team searching for an 11th-straight Big 12 Conference regular-season championship. Garrett’s role is primarily on the ‘red team.’ The red team’s responsibility is to learn the opponent’s tendencies and plays prior to game day.

The red team isn’t glamourous or flashy and conducts its business fairly anonymously, yet the group has every bit to do with KU’s success. Though Garrett and his fellow red team members don’t receive as much attention as they should, their role is extremely important to this historic program. Fans across Jayhawk nation see the team play each week and follow the wins and losses closely, but one thing fans don’t have the chance to see is the hard work that goes on behind the scenes and how many hours these guys put in a week while balancing school and any type of livelihood. Every Jayhawk puts in long days of class, workouts and practice – the red teams’ days just don’t stop there.

“Usually what we do is get there about 45 minutes before practice and we’ll go over their personnel and look over their sets, get those down and kind of how they play. The biggest thing is our guys guard their actions and we get to play them out,” said Garrett.  “During practice, when we’re playing, we have to try and play like the opposing team would play. So if they are a fast three-point shooting team, that’s how we play or if it’s setting ball screens, etc. We have to adapt and play that way.”

Basketball IQ plays a major role in the red team’s preparation. Garrett admits his basketball IQ wasn’t as strong when he arrived in Lawrence, but that all changed once he started working with Kansas head coach Bill Self.

“I’ve learned a lot since coming here. The program, assistant coaches and Coach Self pride themselves on knowing the game and being smart,” said Garrett. “Even in the scouting report they put a lot of effort into breaking down actions for everyone on the team. You just become a much smarter basketball player. You learn so much when you come here and that’s really a credit to the coaches.”

As of February 3, 2015, Garrett has scouted 170 Kansas opponents with 142 of those games being victories. Garrett explained that non-conference and conference games are much different when scouting, based on repetition. For non-conference games, the red team may only see that opponent once in four years at Kansas, but in conference play they may see the same teams two to three times a year.

Garrett and the red team have studied Big 12 opponents so closely that during games they can predict what other coaches will run. He and fellow red team members have helped Kansas go 66-13 in Big 12 regular-season play since Garrett joined the team in 2010-11.

“Sometimes in games we’ll call out plays, but they’ll switch so then we’ll call that out too but they switched again,” Garrett laughed. “So occasionally you get it wrong, but for the most part we know what they’re going to do.”
Now in his fifth season as a Jayhawk, Garrett finds himself as the only senior on the 2014-15 roster. He has played alongside some of the top players in the country, including the No. 1 and No. 3 picks in the 2014 National Basketball Association draft.  He’s been to four NCAA Tournaments, three Sweet 16s, two Elite Eights and one Final Four. Garrett is extremely wise and a valuable asset to help bring up young freshmen in the program.

“The few things I’ve always said to all the freshmen is you have to really trust the process here,” said Garrett. “There will always be some bumps and rough patches, but you have to trust it and see it unfold. Another thing I tell them is to put the extra time in. Extra time in the gym or watching film or meeting with coaches, that stuff goes along way and the guys who are successful are the ones who do that.  This freshman class is doing great and everybody is buying in. It hasn’t been that hard to get them to buy in, but now we have to produce. ”

With his collegiate playing days numbered, Garrett remains humbled and faithful about the journey he’s embarked on. He’s never swayed away from giving all his credit to God. He, his mother and stepfather open their home once a week for students to attend a Bible study. In his free time you will often find Garrett praying or reading, getting time in with the Lord. Garrett has never changed his personality and remains an extremely humble young man. With his hard work leading the charge, Garrett defers his success to something bigger.

“I’m beyond blessed and fortunate,” said Garrett. “Kansas is a name that carries so much with it, to be able to give to that and be a part of that is so awesome. I really can’t take all the credit because this was a door that God opened and I’m so thankful for the opportunity the coaches gave me.”

What Garrett will choose to do after basketball remains unknown, but he’s confident that whatever door God opens for him will lead him in the right direction.

One of those possible directions is where he interned. Not only was Garrett in-season, learning opponents playbooks and trying to graduate, he also worked as a professional intern for IMG College during the Fall 2014 semester. Garrett said he loved seeing how sports and business interacted and was thankful to those who helped lead him during his internship.

The University of Kansas is unique. It’s second to none and Lawrence, Kansas is a main reason as to why. The people in this city and members of Jayhawk nation provide these student-athletes with a home away from home. No matter what state they come from, when they get here they’re Jayhawks and Kansans. Garrett is no exception to that. He is truly thankful for, not only the school that took a chance on him, but for the city that became his home. Garrett is unsure where he will end up in the future, but he knows where home will be.

“Kansas is where my heart is, I love this place,” said Garrett. “I’ll always plan to be here and come back. Even if I’m living somewhere else, I’ll be back. The atmosphere and spirit here are just so incredible and people are drawn to it, especially when you want to settle down. You see former players come back a lot and part of that is because the people here at KU remember you forever and that’s something you want to be around. I can honestly say Kansas will always be home.”

Garrett began his journey with a vision of one day being a scholarship player at a big-time university. He put his journey in the hands of faith and let God lead him down whichever path he was meant to go. Little did Garrett know at the time, faith played out his dream.

“I remember a long time ago someone asked me if I had a dream school and what it would be like,” said Garrett. “I was living in Los Angeles at the time so I only knew Pac-12 schools, but I thought my dream school would be one with a ton of tradition, that wins a lot and would provide the chance to win a championship at a big school. I remember saying that but not thinking much about it. After being in Lawrence, I realized that’s exactly where I’m at.”

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