Nov. 5, 2012
By Chris Forman for NavySports.com
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Have you ever been behind the scenes with a college sports team? We're not talking about in coaches' meetings or film study or practice preparation -- talking really behind the scenes, like the back hallway at Alumni Hall or in the depths of Ricketts Hall, where you will find the Navy Basketball managers devoted to helping the team in any way possible.
Seniors Kevin Darby, Justin Mueller and Alexander Kovensky work in relative obscerity and will never find their names in the scorebook. But their roles are vital to the every-day functionality of the Navy men's basketball team.
"Alex and Kevin are the first four-year managers that we have had since I have been here and their dedication and loyalty to Navy Basketball has been a tremendous asset to the program," said Navy assistant coach Aaron Goodman, who is in his seventh year at Navy. "The leadership roles they have each taken in developing an outstanding core of managers speaks volumes of the positive impact they will have as future Naval Officers."
"Justin has been a valuable part of the program over the last two years and his dedication and focus has been instrumental in helping to develop the younger members of our program,"
You see, basketball managers do what they do for the love of team, game, family and brotherhood. They aren't in it for the glory, but love nothing more than the team they work for and the coaches, players and staff they help.
A sampling of their duties include setting up practice, helping with drills, being at every practice, running the scoreboard and shot clock, filming practice, having a ball and towel at all times in their hands ready to wipe up sweat just to name a few. They are there at least a half-hour before practice. When traveling, managers perform bed checks and wake-up calls, wash and collect laundry, perform bench work during the games, uniform issue before games, collect practice gear and make sure the visiting gym is set up. On longer road trips after night games, they can be found in hotel basement laundry rooms at 2 AM, putting the finishing touches on the game uniforms.
"It's definitely not glamorous. It's making the coaches and staff job easier, so they don't have to worry about," said Darby, an American Politics and Law major who carries a 3.27 GPA and aspires to be a Navy lawyer. "When Koko (Kovensky) and I were freshmen, we were the only two managers, so we got thrown into the fire right away. We thought it was the greatest thing though. We traveled with the team everywhere."
All three of them came from athletic backgrounds. Darby played baseball and ran cross country while attending Lancaster Catholic High School in Lancaster, Pa. As a freshman, he tried out for his freshman basketball team but was cut before the season. However, he impressed the varsity coach enough to be asked to be the team manager, a position he has held since.
Mueller, an applied mathematics major who carries a 3.42 GPA, played football and basketball while running track in high school. He played football all four years in Missoula, Mont., at Sentinel High School. Mueller joined Darby on the JV basketball team here at Navy in each of the last two years. However, Mueller just started his role as a manager during his junior year.
Kovensky played soccer, basketball, baseball and lacrosse at the Canterbury School while growing up in Naples, Fla. The systems engineering major scored a 1560 on his SAT in high school and has been a member of the Superintendent's and Commandant's List during his time at Navy. Kovensky went to a small high school school, so he knew that his only athletic action would come during his time there. He still wanted to be part of a team and becoming a manager allowed him to do that.
Both Kovensky and Darby answered the same email that assistant coach Aaron Goodman sent out to the Brigade during the fall of their freshmen years. The email simply was looking for an interest in becoming a manager for the basketball team. Four years later, the duo has kept with it.
"I never thought I would have an opportunity to be part of a team here at Navy after high school. I got the same email as Darbs and was immediately interested," said Kovensky. "I loved basketball and still wanted to be around it in some way. We both met Coach Goodman and he explained what the deal was and the position entailed. We started working practices and have been doing it ever since."
"I got the email from Coach Goodman, and I thought, `Hey, I have done this before. I can do this.' I really enjoyed it in high school and I have enjoyed it in college," said Darby.
Mueller's path to become a manager took some time to unfold.
"I had zero interaction with the team until my sophomore year," Mueller recalls. "I made the JV team as a sophomore, and that was my first introduction to Navy Basketball. That summer, I was hanging out with Darbs and he had to set up and do some other things for camps. I helped him out some and Coach Goodman asked me if I would be interested in being a manager. I had to think about it, but Darbs said `We could use you'. I started showing up to practices and just enjoyed it and have been a manager the last two years.
Now at the Academy with one common goal in helping the Navy Basketball program, the trio took different routes to get here. Darby didn't have much of a military background growing up, but started to gain interest in the Navy when he saw an ad in a magazine of a Navy SEAL in the swamps with the slogan "Accelerate Your Life" above it.
"I was hooked after seeing that. I thought that it looked pretty cool to be a part of that," said Darby.
Darby filled out the attached mailer but was rejected by the recruiting office for being too young. However, after receiving the information he was too young, the Naval Academy became an option.
"The recruiter noticed that I had pretty good grades in high school and suggested that I look into becoming an officer instead of enlisting. He gave me some information on the Naval Academy and that got the ball rolling," said Darby. "I didn't know much about it at first, but I know I enjoyed watching the Army-Navy football game. In the end, the concept of the Academy and having four years with discipline and direction was very appealing to me. The things you can do after graduation is endless."
For Mueller and Kovensky, the military lifestyle had been a part of their entire lives.
Mueller's father was enlisted in the Navy until his junior year in high school, acting as a recruiter for the last 16 years in Idaho and Montana. He grew up in a military-style family as he retired as a senior chief after 21 years in the Navy.
"We always watched the Army-Navy football game growing up and when I was little, I wanted nothing more than to play football for Navy. I kind of grew out of that phase, and I didn't have much of a clue what I was going to do after graduation," said Mueller. "One of my friends from high school attended the Academy and I saw him post something on Facebook about it and I decided to look into it. Looking back at it, I feel that serving your country is something every young person should do. I wanted to serve my country and this was a perfect avenue for that."
Kovensky also grew up in a military family as his mother was a Lt. Commander for 16 years while working at the Pentagon. In addition, both grandfathers served in the Army during World War II while one of his grandmothers served as a nurse during the same era. While his mother was the only member of his immediate family in the service, her influence paid large dividends.
"All the way back in middle school, I had an interest in the military. I didn't know much about USNA and in the sixth grade we visited the school. Ever since that tour, I fell in love with the place and wanted to come here. I didn't apply to any other school. If I didn't get in, I would enlist. Either way, I knew I would be in military.
Another significant event played a large decision in all of them attending the Academy. 9/11 was a defining force in motivating people to serve their country and played a large role in not only Darby's, Mueller's and Kovensky's interest in the Naval Academy, but many of their classmates as well.
"I remember watching the events of 9/11 on TV and that sealed the deal for me. I was in New Jersey at the time. One of my classmates' neighbors was the pilot of the second World Trade Center plane and I had a lot of friends' parents work in New York City. It was definitely in my focus and a huge reason I am here today," said Kovensky.
"I think that was a defining moment in a lot of our youths and one of the reasons that a lot of Midshipmen are here at the Academy," added Mueller.
"One of the best ways to give back is to serve your country and 9/11 was exemplary of how people came together and all gave back," continued Darby.
All three of them have had outstanding academic careers here at the Naval Academy. They place a large emphasis on academics and how it will shape their futures in the Navy as commissioned officers. They all know the importance of doing well in school to set up their lives for future success.
"How well you do really depends on your work ethic and attitude. All three of us are gifted in the classroom, but we work hard to get there. We want to do well and succeed. The higher your GPA, the more rewards you get," said Mueller. "Better grades help you down the road with certain programs."
"You have to plan ahead constantly and not underestimate how long things will take. You have so many commitments in the classroom and military life and then you add in the basketball duties, it can get demanding," said Darby. "If I had more free time, I would probably struggle some. You have to take advantage of the time you had and plan accordingly."
This year, Mueller has had an extra responsibility to focus on. He was selected as a company commander at the start of the year, which basically means he is in charge of 149 Midshipmen and their duties. He has to make sure every goal gets done as a company, whether it be working together as a group or individually. No matter what, the task at hand must be done satisfactorily and Mueller makes sure of it.
It's a responsibility that was three years in the making.
"It means a lot to me. Over plebe summer, one of my detailers told me that I looked like I had a knack for leading my classmates and that people my age looked up to me. That was a pretty big deal to me when he said that," commented Mueller. "It's awesome to see your company mates get together to reach a final goal. My favorite part is seeing all the classmates work together towards a goal. They look up to me and ask, `What should we do and how do we handle this?' I enjoy being able to be there for them.
"I am not going to lie about this either. It's really cool to hear your name called at football games for the march-on," added Mueller, whose name is the first one you hear during march-on as he is the company commander of the first company.
In terms of their futures in the military, none of the three are sure what to expect. Darby is hoping to service select Surface Warfare, but his ultimate goal is to be a Navy lawyer (JAG / Judge Advocate General). It's easier for him to transfer out of surface warfare than in other communties.
Mueller service selected submarines last spring, but aspires to own his business down the road.
Kovensky hopes to service select Marine pilot. He has always wanted to be a Marine but also wanted to fly, so it's the best of both worlds for him. His timetable is a little longer, but he sees himself making a career for 20-25 years out of it, then pursuing other opportunities after that.
But for now, part of their focus is on the Navy Basketball team and doing what they can to help the program return to the top of the Patriot League. The team has meant so much to them and being part of a team is something all three of them will cherish for life. They all speak glowingly on what it means to them to be part of a team and the people that they work with at the Academy.
"The first thing that comes to mind is the people that you work for and get to meet. The team, coaches and staff have made us all feel welcome like part of NTF (Navy-Team-Family / a team slogan to describe the brotherhood of Navy Basketball)," said Darby. "I have never felt less than a member of the team. These two guys are my best friends at the Academy and are my brothers for life. We were able to meet David Robinson because we were part of the basketball team. We met Reggie Miller because we were part of the team. We worked for and with a great guy in Greg Paulus
, who was very influential on Koko and myself. The coaching staffs have been incredible to us. We get to do things that we would have never had the opportunity to do because of this team."
"The best part for me is the opportunities it affords you. Last year, we got to play at Missouri and to see that atmosphere and play against them was awesome. Midshipmen are afforded some of the best opportunities in the world, but they don't get to experience what we do," said Mueller. "We get to see so much and meet a ton of people that you will connect with later in life. You know people all over the country."
"The ability to travel is really nice. We have been all over the country. I love the team and coaches and support staff. I had no idea about the benefits when I replied to the email my freshmen year," said Kovensky.
"I hope that what Koko and I have done have sort of set the standard for being a basketball manager here at Navy. When we came in, I don't know if they have ever had a four-year manager before. But we are proud to be managers of this team and hope that there are some expectations with the position now. It has been truly a blessing to work for this program and one of the best decisions I have ever made," added Darby.
They may not get much credit for what they do and people may not know who they are, but Darby, Mueller and Kovensky have played a vital role for the Navy Basketball team.
They are the "true" behind-the-scenes performers on the team. And they wouldn't have it any other way.
# GO NAVY #